Researchers reveal the secret to using narcissism to your advantage

If you’ve ever been told that you are a narcissist you likely didn’t react gratefully. 

We primarily associate narcissistic tendencies with pejoratives because we’re only familiar with the broad stokes of the personality disorder. However, being labeled a humble narcissist is not necessarily a bad thing according to a new paper.

Researchers behind a new  study  published in the Journal of Applied Psychology surveyed workers employed at Fortune 100 Companies.

Ultimately they concluded that team’s led by individuals who counterbalance narcissism and humility are more productive, more engaged and perform better on daily tasks. These employees even viewed their bosses more favorably compared to firms helmed by less narcissistic executives.

“Although an examination of leaders who are narcissistic yet humble may seem oxymoronic and even paradoxical, researchers have suggested that seemingly contradictory personal attributes may exist simultaneously and may actually work together to produce positive outcomes,”  the authors write in the report. “Results from survey data from followers and leaders working for a large health insurance organization showed that the interaction of leader narcissism and leader humility is associated with perceptions of leader effectiveness.”

Ideas, expectations, performance, and collaboration

Make no mistake, bosses who expressed narcissistic qualities that were not tempered by humility were the least effective of all the leaders analyzed. Self-assurance is an important trait for a leader to have but balance is key.

Subordinates working for narcissists tended to slack off more and take longer breaks. Conversely, workers under bosses who didn’t express any narcissistic traits were generally more productive but they didn’t perform on tasks quite as well as the workers employed by bosses who evidenced both humble and narcissistic personality traits.

What exactly is a humble narcissist? They can be defined a number of different ways but self-awareness is the most important factor. Humble narcissists are at once confident in their abilities and aware of their shortcomings.

So as far as the study is concerned humility isn’t defined by deference in a social sense but applied to expectations, ideas, performance, and collaboration. Ideas need to be bolstered by an understanding of limitations. This is why employees viewed humble narcissists more favorably.

Humble narcissists are better at receiving constructive criticism, more flexible in the face of failure and more open to ideas that are not their own.

Independent research has proven how influential transparency is on worker engagement. When a company falls short of a shared objective workers like to know that their boss is willing to take some accountability.

The narcissism spectrum

If you distill the core ingredients that energize narcissism (self-flattery, ego, and perfectionism) you’ll find that they only become restrictive when they exist in excess. In actuality, there are many ways in which a healthy dose of narcissism can be beneficial. The trick is identifying the line the separates grandiose ambition and delusion.

Phrased more succinctly by organizational psychologist, Adam Grant, “Humble narcissists have grand ambitions, but they don’t feel entitled to them. They don’t deny their weaknesses; they work to overcome them,” Grant told in reaction to the new paper. So if you work with a narcissist, don’t try to lower their confidence. Just temper it with humility.

“Don’t tell them they’re not great. Instead, remind them that they’re human, they haven’t succeeded alone, and what sets the best apart is that they’re always striving to get better.”

Remember, narcissism is a spectrum that we all exist on. Given that,  we might try and find a way to make an inflated sense of self-importance work for our advantage.

The new paper, titled, Leader Narcissism and Follower Outcome: The Counter Balance Effect of Leader Narcissism was co-authored by Bradley P. Owens, Angela S. Wallace and David A. Waldman and can be read in full in The Journal of Applied Psychology.