Often it is complicated to breakthrough leadership narcissism. Many studies have proposed that it is a struggle to adjust or implement any change management approaches when this behavior is present. In motion, signs of moral conflicts, antisocial behaviors, and even psychopathy are common. A research study conducted by Paulus and Williams (2002) discussed these concerns. Paulus and Williams (2002) wrote on Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy often called the Dark Triad of Personality. The study, completed almost 20 years ago, discussed this triad while providing helpful information on personalities still very apparent today in organizations and government leadership.
Machiavellianism is severe manipulation. Narcissism shows up in people who live in a world of grandeur, focusing primarily on what is in it for them. People who are known narcissists also commonly portray dominance, superiority, and entitlement characteristics. Psychopathy may sound a bit outlandish here, but it is common in everyday real-world examples. It shows in “high impulsivity and thrill-seeking along with low empathy and anxiety” (Paulus and Williams, 2002, p. 556). Though quite different from each other, from an I-O psychology footprint, commonalities are found in aloofness, self-promotion, deception, and aggressive behaviors transmitted toward others. Correlations of one personality trait and another can be present in family units that make up leaders of organizations and occasionally those in government, or even both at the same time.
Leaders who portray these comportments are dangerous in their roles to uphold practical leadership responsibilities. It is highly inconceivable that any organization can gain knowledge, offer integrity, and grow organically with such leaders. It is likewise treachery to hear that some leaders are supported because of their policies. In contrast, staff and community members endure hardship from common leadership behaviors such as lack of empathy, entitlement, impulsivity, and dominance. In organizations or government constructs, policies are collaborative and not customarily created by one person. Therefore, sticking with a leader who fits into the Dark Triad based on policies, is preposterous.
A leader who concedes to the concept that a personality change is necessary should agree to be observed on significant personality structures that are currently causing struggles within her or his organization. A trained I-O psychologist measures personality traits by creating questionnaires, surveys, and commonly used measurement scales that are well recognized.
Paulus and Williams’ (2002) study showed that Machiavellians and narcissists might be a more social nuisance than intimidation. However, the date of this study may offer space to revisit these personality traits in the context of leadership today in the age of COVID-19. In addition, in their study, psychopathy was shown to be adaptive in that it can cause more damage based on the self-evaluation of people holding this personality trait and their lack of concern. Again, based on the time of Paulus and Williams’ study, revisiting this trait in the context of leadership may be warranted.
The most challenging area for a Human Resources (HR) department is the conceding of leaders who hold these personalities and therefore, obtaining the approval to conduct such studies within specific organizations and government agencies. Leaders may believe they are being set-up, even though behaviors may have been previously addressed as questionable. They may also be in complete denial based on ego and power. However, with the use of an I-O psychology consultant, determination can be made on clinical and subclinical differences pertaining to suspected behaviors. Nonetheless, with approval, positive changes can most likely come.
Paulus, D.L. & Williams, K.M. (2002). The Dark Triad of personality: Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. Journal of Research in Personality, 36(6). https://doi.org/10.1016/S0092-6566(02)00505-6