Tapping the Surprising Science of “Humble Narcissism”
How narcissism and humility can combine powerfully for success
Most people think “narcissism” is a stable characteristic or personality type. In popular conceptions, narcissists are excessively self-centered, self-absorbed, entitled, and willing to exploit others to reach their goals. And that definition is partly right, but only partly. Narcissism really does represent an excessive focus on the self that can lead to toxic social behaviors and poor workplace outcomes. Though narcissists may initially seem charismatic, charming, and leader-like, over time the facade tends to crack, revealing a fragile and needy ego that craves admiration and validation by one and all.
But as it turns out, even narcissists have their nuances, and one of them is the capacity for humility. Being humble may sound totally outside the wheelhouses of folks with strong narcissistic tendencies, but research by my colleagues and I suggests that it isn’t. Indeed, overlooking this counter-intuitive side to narcissism risks missing key lessons on what it takes to be an effective leader.
There are a few common ways narcissism tends to be misunderstood. First, certain aspects of narcissism–extreme drive, self-confidence, and a desire to lead–have the potential to bring about productive results. It’s likely because of these potentially constructive qualities that researchers have found narcissistic leaders aren’t uniformly bad; their track records tend to be something of a mixed bag, leading to positive outcomes as well as negative ones.
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