Book Me For A Speech

My Writing and Ranting

Press Room

Good Books

« Is Work Matters Banned at GE? | Main | I hand out copies of your book like valium pills »


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Project Guru

I've read the book "Why it is always about me" about Narcissism. It is a great book and brings clarification to narcissists.

Bob Sutton

Toxic Handler,

To your point, I spoke with Frank Flynn, one of the authors of the study, and he was quick to point out that, over time, co-workers come to like narcissists less and less. And, as you imply, this is for good reason!


The experiments focus on short-term tasks - that's how the "brilliant asshole" is noticed. The real issue with extreme narcissists is the damage they wreak on organizations over the long term.


Doesn't the real issue here have less to do with epistemic bias and more to do with something like ethical fervor?

The description of the inventory clearly states that "there's no such thing as a good or bad result on this test. Scoring high on the narcissism inventory, or high on any of the component categories, doesn't mean you have a disorder, or that you're a good or bad person."

But these other studies allow you to raise precisely those issues (i.e., allows you to conclude presicely what the test itself does not): "narcissists do so much damage that they still may not be worth the trouble."

So there are two pieces of research, each of which appear to be perfectly objective and non-moralizing, but which ultimately support a highly moralizing attitude. The first tells us whether or not you are a narcissist. The second shows us the social effects of narcissists.

We go from a test that does not question whether or not you are "a good person" to resarch that registers the (good and bad) effects of narcissist on groups to a discourse that raises the question whether or not you are "worth the trouble". Maybe it's just because I'm a narcissist myself (I'm one of those people who refuses to even take such a test), but this moral environment is a bit unsettling to ponder.

Bob Sutton


Thanks for the comment. I agree that surveys like this have bias, as would the authors of these studies. But I would not dismiss them completely as this scale has -- from what I understand -- been developed and studied sufficiently that it appears to have decent reliability and validity. This study was reviewed and accepted by a peer-reviewed journal that has high standards. While no doubt there are alternative explanations for the findings (there always are), I would be slow to dismiss this or any other study that has survived the typically quite rigorous peer review process.

William Cunningham

Analyzing and measuring something as abstract as a personality trait, particularly with a self-response method of questionnaire, results in a great deal of bias and inaccuracy. I therefore find the study itself questionable due to the lack of a reliable universal definition of narcissism. Since you can argue that narcissism varies depending on culture and environment, as what an American may define as narcissism may not necessarily be what an Italian or Korean may consider as narcissism, and a respondent may skew results simply based on how he or she desires others to view him and her, people who were seen as narcissists in the study may not actually be narcissists. It is equally inaccurate when observers assess another's narcissism, as people may actively engage in impression management, therefore skewing the scale.

Jan van der Wielen

This research is somewhat related to the topic you discuss above:

It's by Peter Harms et al. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and I quote from the public release of their research "To be good, sometimes leaders need to be a little bad":

'Several of the 12 "dark side" traits – such as those associated with narcissism, being overly dramatic, being critical of others and being extremely focused on complying with rules – actually had a positive effect on a number of facets of the cadets' leadership development over time.

"By themselves, these subclinical traits had fairly small effects, but when aggregated, they played a substantial role in determining which cadets developed leadership skills," Harms said.

"Assumptions about how these traits affected performance and development were mistaken … it appears that even negative characteristics can be adaptive in particular settings or job roles."

That's not to say that large doses of these traits will make someone a great leader. "Dark side" traits have always been considered to be adaptive up to point, Harms said. Even moderate amounts can be dismissed as personality quirks by co-workers and subordinates. But at extremely high levels, the characteristics become pathological and can lead to career derailment, Harms said. Leaders must be sensitive to their situation to understand when exactly they are going too far.'

So, yes, one might call this troubling, then again, perhaps it's reassuring as well?
My boss may be a little bit narcissistic, but I can forgive him, because it makes him a better manager...
Well, in that line of thinking anyway!


The people I work with who are narcissists are not at all like Jack Welch or Steve Jobs.
True, they can charm board members, but they aren't at all charming to those who work for them. They are kiss up kick down devisive types, so competitive that they can't collaborate. Staff just do not flock to them. They have highly inflated egos without commensurate accomplishment. Feel they are superior to those who do the work. They overestimate their knowledge so make poor decisions. They can't listen. I've worked for 3 CFOs and the narcissist was the least capable and the least effective.


A point of clarification. Is "Is Jones a narcissist?" a yes or no question?

Randy Bosch

Few can handle the extra fire-power that narcissists bring to a team - I, Me and My - let alone contain the damage that occurs too often. To think one can "use" them to close a deal and contain them may be a self-proof of narcissism!

Anyone is a narcissist who is convinced that they can accomplish that without great damage to them or your organization.

Also, remember that if you decide to let them drive the bus, you will end up under it and they will own it, if it doesn't crash.


Would there be a culture twist to it?

Here in Hong Kong, I consider myself lucky to know a few narcissist people that i can "use" time to time to pitch my clients when i wouldn't be able to. They are worst the trouble if you know how to manage/motivate/control them and that you don't give them a power over others.


whenever i've looked at a recent picture of myself i am unattractive;yet, when i see a picture from that previous moment in time i think i look good.

i am a narcissist or just getting older?

Eddie Colbeth

I can't see myself seeking out and hiring narcissists. One of the most important things when collaborating is, it's not about you.

In Good to Great, we see CEO's who are humble, driven and extremely productive. I'll take that sort of leader over a narcissist any day!

Jeff Shattuck

The research makes sense to me. Narcissists run rampant in adland, where I worked, and in general, as long as they were not in positions of too much authority or they were governed in some way, they were great sparks.


Hmm, tricky.

One of the most important messages I have taken from this blog is that, the more diverse a team is, the more creative it will be, but the harder it will be to keep the group working well together. That has to be true for all personality types, including narcissists, so it has to come down to whether they can be kept from disrupting the team or not. I don't think we can generalise because that will depend on the narcissist in question but also on the ability of the team they are in to handle them - IMO it has to be taken on a case by case basis.

There may also be occasions when, as with excellent techies with no social skills, the narcissists can be found their own niche where they can do what they do best without disrupting those around them. [tries really hard not to write a snark about sales departments: fails]


I generally believe that narcissists are not at all worth the trouble; however I have worked with a few that were not all bad. The lesser evil narcissists generally have more control over their narcissism. It takes a special person to learn to control that kind of a gift.


"Are narcissists at times worth the trouble?" Probably so, but I think it pays to find a different way to engage with them. It was only after reading your post that I realized how I'd learned that lesson somewhat by accident.

Years ago, I worked for a wild-eyed entrepreneur -- I won't call him a narcissist, but he was all of the things you described: creative, engaging, risk-taking to the hilt, etc. (No, Dad, I'm not talking about you.)

Over time, the company started going in a different direction, one that I thought was TOO risky (and random). Plus, for various personal reasons I was ready to move on and go back to freelancing.

But when I gave notice, the boss made it clear he didn't want to lose my contribution, and asked if I would still work with them on projects (we were more than fair to each other, which I still appreciate).

So when he asked if I would still do work for them, I said, "Yeah -- I'm not leaving the family; I'm just getting my own apartment." I was happy to hear they still wanted my contribution.

They went on to become one of my biggest clients -- and my impact in some ways grew stronger, because I was tackling higher-level projects. And of course I was happier with the new working relationship, which probably influenced the quality of my work.

So even when that sort of arrangement isn't feasible, we need to look for ways to contain the narcissist's damage, rather than tolerate it, or worse -- reward it!

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

Asshole Survival

Scaling Up

Good Boss Bad Boss

No Asshole Rule

Hard Facts

Weird Ideas

Knowing -Doing Gap

The No Asshole Rule:Articles and Stories