Narcissism and Humility – a combination that can engage a workforce

Narcissism and Humility – a combination that can engage a workforce

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Narcissism and Humility – a combination that can engage a workforce


There are endless number of biographies and books about Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple. Until recently however, profiles of the man have centred on his own self confidence and the belief that his vision and ideas were superior to others.

This has led some to identify Jobs as being highly narcissistic. A recent study has however identified how Narcissism, in combination with a touch of humility can actually improve a leader’s effectiveness and increase employee engagement.

Researchers at the Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Management have discovered displaying a certain amount of humility can counterbalance the toxic, negative traits of narcissistic people, and can actually help them to perform better, and importantly, make them be perceived to be effective leaders by their workforce.

The study, which was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, was co-authored by assistant professor of business ethics at Brigham Young University Bradley Owens, and his colleagues at SUNY-Buffalo and Arizona State University. 876 employees at a large Fortune 100 health insurance company were asked to complete a number of surveys as part of the research.

They were asked to rate their bosses in areas of humility, effectiveness and engagement. In parallel, their bosses were also asked to complete surveys measuring their narcissism. They were asked to choose between statements which they thought best described them such as “I’m like everybody else” or “I’m an extraordinary, exceptional person.”

The results of the study were fascinating. Those leaders who were both highly narcissistic but also rated highly in humility had more engaged employees and were perceived as more effective leaders. Co-authors Owen commented:

“Just by practicing and displaying elements of humility, one can help disarm, counterbalance, or buffer the more toxic aspects of narcissism. The outcome is that narcissism can possibly be a net positive… Humility is not meant to replace strong or typical leadership characteristics, but rather complement them in an important way. It’s meant to help temper them, help counterbalance them.”



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