According to a new study people who are highly narcissistic tend to take control of leaderless groups.
Narcissism is a characteristic in which people are self-centered, exaggerate their talents and abilities, and lack empathy for others.
Lead author Amy Brunell, an assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University says it's not surprising that narcissists become leaders because not only do narcissists consider themselves as leaders, which is expected, but other group members also see them as the people who really run the show.
Professor Brunell says narcissists become leaders because they like power, they are egotistical, and they are usually charming and extraverted - but they don't necessarily make better leaders.
By definition, narcissists are self-centered and overconfident in their own abilities and the researchers found similar results in two separate studies involving college students, and one involving business managers in an MBA program.
The research suggests that while narcissists are more likely to become leaders, once in power, they don't perform any better than others in that leadership role.
The first study involved 432 undergraduate students who all completed assessments which measured various personality traits, including narcissism.
The students were then put in groups of four, and told to assume they were a committee of senior officers of the student union, and their task was to elect next year's director.
Each person in a group was given a profile of a different candidate for the position, and each was to argue for their particular candidate and following the discussion, they voted on the director and then completed a questionnaire evaluating the leadership of themselves and the other group members.
The results showed that students who scored higher on one dimension of narcissism - the desire for power - were more likely to say they wanted to lead the group, were more likely to say they did lead the group discussion, and were more likely to be viewed as leaders by the other group members.
The other dimension of narcissism - the desire for attention - was not as strongly related to leadership roles in the groups.
Professor Brunell says it is not surprising that the desire for power is what really drives narcissists to seek leadership positions.
In the second study, 408 students were placed in groups of four and given a scenario in which they imagined they were shipwrecked on an uninhabited island and had to choose which 15 salvageable items the group should take ashore which would best help them survive.
After a group discussion, those who scored highest on the power dimension of narcissism again showed the most desire to lead the group discussion, rated themselves as leaders, and were viewed by other group members as the leaders.
But this study went further by looking at how well the narcissists performed as leaders.
The researchers looked at the lists, prepared by each individual and group, of the 15 items that they thought would help them survive, they then compared their lists to one prepared by an expert who has taught survival skills to the U.S. military.
The results showed that narcissists did no better than others on selecting the items that would best help them survive and groups that overall scored highest on narcissism did no better than other groups on the task.
A third study involved 153 business managers enrolled in an executive MBA program at a large southeastern university, who were also put in groups of four and told to assume the role of a school board deciding how to allocate a large financial contribution from a fictional company.
Two trained observers - professors or doctoral students in industrial/organizational psychology - observed the groups and rated how much of a leadership role each participant assumed in their groups.
Results showed that the MBA students rated highest in narcissism were most likely to be identified as emerging leaders by the expert observers and Brunell says even trained observers saw narcissistic people as the natural leaders and the study showed that narcissism plays a role in leadership among real-world managers.
Brunell says the studies took into account other factors such as gender and personality traits like high self-esteem and extraversion - that may relate to leadership development, and even when these factors were taken accounted for, narcissism still played a key role.
Brunell says it is important not to confuse narcissism with high self-esteem - a person with high self-esteem is confident and charming, but they also have a caring component and they want to develop intimacy with others.
Narcissists however have an inflated view of their talents and abilities and are all about themselves and care little about others.
Brunell says she believes the results apply to many parts of life, from the politics of the presidential race to Wall Street and many have observed that it takes a narcissistic person to run for President of the United States.
The same is true for the leaders of Wall Street firms that have made and lost millions of dollars in the past few years and research has shown that narcissistic leaders tend to have volatile and risky decision-making performance and can be ineffective and potentially destructive leaders.
The study will appear in an upcoming print issue of the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.