In what was to be the start of the worst weekend of Alan Hardy’s tenure as chairman of Notts County Football Club, rival football fan Daniel Taylor of The Guardian released a damning piece on the chairman. In his article, Daniel showcased critical misfortunes in Mr Hardy’s personal life, and also highlighted the debt and downfall of the football club, on a national stage. Of interest to me however, was Daniel’s claim that this was, in part, the result of “boardroom buffoonery” on the part of Mr Hardy, to whom he implied was a narcissist.
But what is a narcissist? What traits do narcissists hold?
According to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.; DSM-5; American Psychiatric Association, 2013) – a list of classifications and associated symptoms of mental disorders – Narcissistic Personality Disorder is characterised by a “pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and a lack of empathy” (p. 670). To achieve this diagnosis, individuals must meet five or more of the criteria listed below, and moreover, evidence them in a variety of contexts.
 Grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents)
 Preoccupied with fantasies of power, success, or brilliance
 Believes they are special and unique
 Requires excessive admiration
 Sense of entitlement (e.g., expects favourable treatment)
 Interpersonally exploitative (e.g., takes advantage of others)
 Lacks empathy
 Believes others are envious of themselves
 Arrogant in their behaviours or attitudes
Now, of course we recognise that Mr Taylor’s comments represented a flippant, and off-handed ploy to elicit doubt as to the chairman’s ability to successfully run the club – and that the choice of the term narcissist was a lay-term at best, with no clinical framing. Nevertheless, this brings about the discussion of personality traits found in successful individuals, and whether or not narcissism, in particular, is one of them.
The simple answer to this question, is yes, but this debate is complex.
Although the term success differs as a function of context, and varies from person to person, most people would typically define the concept of success as achieving (to a high standard) in a particular area or field. At the forefront of this debate, narcissists can come across as powerful, persuasive, and knowledgeable individuals, who are charismatic and engaging to their audience. They are able to put across their views in an assertive and domineering manner (Hart, Adams, Burton, & Tortoriello, 2017), and exaggerate their abilities to lead and control social situations (Judge, LePine, & Rich, 2006). As such, these individuals make ideal leaders, with this point further demonstrated by their ability to rally and inspire their followers (Deluga, 1997). Such traits may pre-dispose an individual to reaching the highest ranks in their field – however this achievement may come at a cost to others, who may suffer exploitation and neglect.
If you take the time to consider these traits, who in your life, or indeed the world, comes to mind? What success have they garnered? And what makes you think they are a narcissist? Of particular interest is a recent finding by Visser, Book, and Volk (2017) who, through public opinions and rating scales, characterise US President Donald Trump as a high-scoring narcissist. You can’t be more successful than the most powerful man on Earth.
But how long can this success last? Grijalva and colleagues (2015) suggest that these admiral and overtly-attractive personality traits and characteristics displayed by narcissists start to diminish over time, leading to the emergence of the “ugly side of narcissism” (p. 28). More specifically, said individuals are, time and time again, found to waiver in their faultless façade; leading to displays of arrogance, entitlement, and acts of self-centredness (Back, Schmukle, & Egloff, 2010). In essence, here we start to tease apart the concept of successful vs. unsuccessful narcissists. In this scenario, successful narcissists are those who can keep up this persona, whilst unsuccessful narcissists are those who are ‘found out’ by their followers, employees, and electorate.
This blog post is in no way designed to offer evidence in favour of or against The Guardian’s claim, but instead opens debate as to the possible utility of traits commonly viewed as dark or deviant and how they may be used, by some, to achieve success and status.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC.
Back, M. D., Schmukle, S. C., & Egloff, B. (2010). Why are narcissists so charming at first sight? Decoding the narcissism–popularity link at zero acquaintance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98, 132–145
Deluga, R. J. (1997). Relationship among American presidential charismatic leadership, narcissism, and rated performance. The Leadership Quarterly, 8, 49–65.
Grijalva, E., Harms, P. D., Newman, D. A., Gaddis, B. H., & Fraley, R. C. (2015). Narcissism and leadership: A meta-analytic review of linear and nonlinear relationships. Personnel Psychology, 68, 1–47.
Hart, W., Adams, J., Burton, & Tortoriello, G. K. (2017). Narcissism and self-presentation: Profiling grandiose and vulnerable narcissists' self-presentation tactic use. Personality and Individual Differences, 104, 48–57.
Judge, T. A., LePine, J. A., & Rich, B. L. (2006). Loving yourself abundantly: Relationship of the narcissistic personality to self- and other perceptions of workplace deviance, leadership, and task and contextual performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91, 762–776.
Visser, B. A., Book, A. S., & Volk, A. A. (2017). Is Hillary dishonest and Donald narcissistic? A HEXACO analysis of the presidential candidates' public personas. Personality and Individual Differences, 106, 281–286.