This post is by Nicole Torres from HBR.org
Click here to view on the original site: Original Post
We’ve all heard it: Millennials are more narcissistic, entitled, and self-indulgent than generations past. Whether that makes you nod your head or roll your eyes — the evidence, after all, remains controversial and polarizing — the idea that narcissism has increased among college students over the last 25 years is worrisome from an organizational perspective. Millennials are the next generation of leaders. And while we know narcissism can be useful at times, research has linked narcissists’ sense of entitlement and belief that the rules don’t always apply to them to a range of counterproductive work behaviors, such as embezzlement, workplace incivility, bullying, and white-collar crime.
So in 2011, Jim Westerman, a professor at Appalachian State University’s Walker College of Business, conducted a study of 16 professors and 536 undergraduate students in business and psychology. He wanted to see whether Millennial students were more narcissistic than their predecessors (they were) and, more
whether business students displayed higher levels of narcissism than psychology students (they did). The logical next question, according to Westerman, was to understand the potential role of college faculty in these findings.
Westerman and his colleagues recently published their results in The International Journal of Management Education. Their latest study, of 267 undergraduate business students and nine professors at a U.S. university, found that “narcissism fit,” or how well a student’s level of narcissism matched his or her professor’s, was significantly related to the student’s final grade in the class. Students who were as narcissistic as their professors got higher grades than students who were either more or less narcissistic than their professors — and this effect seemed to be partially driven by students’ perceptions of class difficulty and professor status.
It’s essentially a case of personality fit, something that factors into student outcomes.
The researchers had students complete the Narcissistic Personality Inventory — a questionnaire that was developed in the 1980s and is commonly used in social psychological research to measure narcissism — midway through the semester. (The faculty members completed it at the end of the semester, when submitting the students’ grades.) Respondents chose between two statements, a narcissistic response and a nonnarcissistic response. For example, they’d choose either “Modesty doesn’t become me” or “I am essentially a modest person,” and either “I can usually talk my way out of anything” or “I try to accept the consequences of my behavior.”
To understand why mismatched personalities might affect student grades, the researchers also surveyed students about how difficult the class seemed and how esteemed the professor was. The idea here was that “narcissism fit” would affect how students felt about the class and the professor, which would in turn affect their grades. The researchers controlled for age, gender, GPA, class level, and class attendance.
The results showed that harmonious personalities were beneficial for students. Less-narcissistic students flourished with less-narcissistic professors: they got higher grades, felt the class to be less difficult, and thought more highly of the professor. The same was true of more-narcissistic students under more-narcissistic professors.
Students who were either more or less narcissistic than their professors fared worse. Less-narcissistic students struggled in classes with more-narcissistic faculty, getting lower grades, perceiving the class to be more difficult, and respecting the professor less. More-narcissistic students being taught by less-narcissistic professors had similar results.
It’s important to note that this was a correlational study, and its primary weakness seems to be the relatively small sample of professors. However, the researchers say that the findings point to an implication of having narcissistic business school professors: in effect, they discourage less-narcissistic students but reward (in terms of grades and career placement opportunities) and possibly even provide a model of future behavior for more-narcissistic students. So figuring out ways to reduce narcissism among faculty, they argue, may be a linchpin in any strategy to reduce narcissism among students, and consequently in the workforce.
While the aim of the study was to understand narcissism among undergraduate business students and professors, it’s not hard to imagine how this idea of “narcissism fit” might play out in the workplace. I wondered whether narcissistic managers and narcissistic employees might have better working relationships than those with differing personalities. If you’re as narcissistic as your manager, for instance, does that make you more likely to get promoted, land important projects, or earn higher pay?
That’s all speculative, of course, and Westerman cautioned against generalizing his findings to other contexts. The workplace is very different from the classroom, he explained: the relationships are longer-term, and the power differential is often greater and more salient. For example, while most people have only one boss who can make life-changing decisions, students have multiple professors, though it’s difficult to determine how much individual grades matter to one’s career.
“All things considered, I would be surprised to find that fit on narcissism would relate to positive outcomes in the workplace,” Westerman said. “Narcissists come across as charming, bright, etc., in short-term interactions, but over the long term (like in a work relationship), the narcissist’s true nature comes across.”
And yet despite narcissists’ flaws, there’s lots of evidence that people are drawn to them, not least because they tend to be very charismatic. Seeing how matching personalities might factor into this magnetism could help us resist it.