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Narcissists rise the ranks to become CEOs faster, study reveals


Highly narcissistic individuals climb the career ladder to become heads of their companies 29 percent faster, a new study claims.

Researchers compared levels of narcissism in 241 CEOs across Italy, as determined by questionnaires, with their employment history.

The academics found that the executives with the highest narcissism scores were promoted more quickly, regardless of whether their company was family-owned or not.

This suggests that narcissistic individuals take advantage of the toxic personality flaw when they strive to become the head of their company as soon as possible – although the experts don’t know why this is.

In psychology, narcissism is generally characterized by grandeur, pride, selfishness, and a lack of empathy for others.

Highly narcissistic individuals become CEOs faster, regardless of whether the company is family-owned or not, Italian researchers report (stock image of a male CEO)


Narcissism is characterized by grandeur, pride, selfishness and a lack of empathy.

Symptoms include an excessive need for admiration, disregard for the feelings of others, an inability to handle criticism, and a sense of entitlement.

Extreme narcissism can progress into a mental illness called narcissistic personality disorder, found more often in men.

The cause is unknown, but is likely a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

It is one of the ‘dark triad’ of unwanted personality traits, along with Machiavellianism and psychopathy

The study’s authors say it’s “widely acknowledged” that narcissism is a peculiar feature of leaders, such as CEOs.

However, the role of narcissism in the emergence and appointment of these leaders has not been explored so far.

The study, published in the journal The Leadership Quarterly, was conducted by Paola Rovelli, an assistant professor at the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, and Camilla Curnis, a PhD student at the Polytechnic University of Milan.

“Our results are somewhat troubling,” the researchers told the BBC.

“As we began to develop our interest in CEO narcissism, we noticed that the literature focused mainly on the business implications of this trait.”

The researchers did not determine whether narcissism causes rapid career progression, although it probably is.

Narcissists would be better off building their own abilities to get promoted – a tactic that can be very effective, even when they’re lying.

For the study, the team used the responses of 241 Italian CEOs to the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI), originally developed in 1979 by US-based researchers Robert Raskin and Howard Terry to assess the level of the trait in humans. .

The authors of the study say: 'It is widely recognized that narcissism is a peculiar characteristic of leaders, such as CEOs.  However, the role of narcissism in the emergence and appointment of CEOs has not yet been explored' (stock image)

The authors of the study say: ‘It is widely recognized that narcissism is a peculiar characteristic of leaders, such as CEOs. However, the role of narcissism in the emergence and appointment of CEOs has not yet been explored’ (stock image)


Statement 1:

a) I have a natural talent for influencing people

b) I’m not good at influencing people

Pronunciation 2:

a) The thought of ruling the world terrifies me

b) If I ruled the world it would be a better place

Pronunciation 3:

a) I insist on getting the respect I deserve

b) I usually get the respect I deserve

NPI consists of 40 binary choice statements that people have to choose from, including “The thought of ruling the world scares me” or “If I ruled the world, it would be a better place.”

For this particular choice of statements, the latter, unsurprisingly, points to narcissism.

People who complete the NPI are given a score of 40, based on how often they chose the narcissistic statement.

NPI scores were then compared with data from executives’ resumes, including time between promotions at their organizations.

CEOs with a high degree of narcissism were about 29 percent faster in their appointment compared to the average hard-working candidate with similar qualifications.

In general, women tended to have slightly lower narcissism scores, although there was a fairly small number of female CEOs in their sample.

The authors claim that they are confident that their paper will be of great value to companies in the process of appointing a new CEO.

Narcissism is generally associated with negative behavioral tendencies, such as rights and exploitation, as well as negative organizational outcomes, they warn.

Narcissism is one of the 'dark triad' of unwanted personality traits, along with Machiavellianism and psychopathy

Narcissism is one of the ‘dark triad’ of unwanted personality traits, along with Machiavellianism and psychopathy

As narcissism accelerates appointments, companies may have to deal with younger CEOs who are less experienced than older ones, adding an additional element of risk to the company.

“Therefore, companies should be wary of favoring the appointment of narcissistic individuals, even if evidence shows that such individuals are being appointed to the CEO position at a faster rate.”

In July of this year, another team of researchers from the University of Bristol claimed it’s a myth that testosterone levels drive CEO success, contradicting previous assumptions.

High testosterone could be the result of success, rather than the other way around, they reported, which could explain previous studies linking high levels of the hormone to a successful life.


Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) falls on a spectrum: You can score high, low, or somewhere in between on the narcissistic personality inventory.

Unlike being pregnant, you can just be a little narcissistic.

There are nine official criteria, but you only need to meet five to qualify clinically as a narcissist. These are:

An exaggerated sense of self-importance. People with NPD often wildly exaggerate their achievements and talents.

A sense of entitlement. They insist on having the best of everything, expect special favors and are outraged when anyone wonders why.

A need for constant, excessive admiration. Narcissists expect to be recognized as superior, often without any qualification to justify it. They can’t take criticism and get angry when they don’t get the attention they think they deserve.

Preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, genius and the perfect partner. They are often depressed or moody because they are not perfect. This can lead to problems with drugs or alcohol.

A belief that they are superior, special and unique and should only associate with equally special people. They belittle people they consider inferior.

Interpersonal exploitative behavior. They take advantage of others to get what they want.

A lack of empathy. They are unable and unwilling to recognize the needs and feelings of others.

Jealous of others or believe that others are jealous of them. They constantly measure themselves against others to see if they come out on top.

Arrogant and haughty behavior. Narcissists come across as cocky, boastful and pretentious.

The hidden truth. Secretly, narcissists feel insecure, shameful, vulnerable, and often humiliated. These could be suicidal thoughts or behavior. It definitely means that they have relationship issues with everyone.


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