The Temporality of Narcissistic Leadership

Electronic versions


  • Chin Wei Ong

    Research areas

  • PhD, School of Sport, Health and Exercise Sciences


Narcissists possess an inflated, overly-positive self-view, which they maintain and boost by taking advantage of opportunities for self-enhancement. Leadership is viewed by narcissists as a viable means towards achieving self-enhancement, which gives rise to their leader emergent tendencies. However, the characteristics of their personality suggest that their leadership qualities will decrease over time, although no evidence has previously existed supporting this hypothesised effect. The present thesis provides the first empirical evidence to support the theorised temporal pattern of narcissistic leadership - characterised by initial favourable follower perceptions that wane over time. Additionally, we explored the mechanisms that explain the temporal pattern of perceptions towards narcissistic leadership, specifically transformational leadership and evolutionary strategies towards gaining social status: prestige and dominance. Chapter 1 introduces the relevant aspects of narcissism, leadership and evolutionary psychology, setting the scene for the thesis and presenting the questions pertaining to the temporality of narcissistic leadership that are examined in the subsequent empirical chapters. Chapter 2 (Pilot Study) examines the temporality of narcissistic leadership and the visionary component of transformational leadership through two hypothetical temporal scenarios. The results provide preliminary evidence that narcissistic leadership is perceived favourably for a short duration but not for a long duration, and also suggest that inspirational motivation, a visionary component of transformational leadership, mediates the perceptions of narcissists as effective leaders in the short-term but not over the long-term. In Chapter 3 (Studies 1 and 2), we describe two longitudinal round-robin studies, utilising group members with varying levels of acquaintance, that provide the first empirical evidence that the temporality of narcissistic leadership is characterised by initial positive follower perceptions that wane over time. We also demonstrate that transformational leadership mediates the relationship between narcissism and leadership early on but not later, suggesting that follower perceptions of narcissistic leaders across time is dependent on narcissistic leaders’ demonstration of appropriate transformational leadership behaviours. Chapter 4 (Study 3) provides an evolutionary perspective on the temporality of narcissistic leadership. Utilising a longitudinal, round-robin experimental design similar to the studies in Chapter 3, the results confirm that narcissistic leaders are perceived favourably by followers initially but not over time. Additionally, both evolutionary strategies to gaining social status - prestige and dominance - explain narcissists’ initial success as leaders. However, immediately after leader emergence, only dominance is effective in helping narcissists remain as favourable leaders, but the beneficial effects of dominance dissipate over time. In Chapter 5, we present a summary of the thesis; the theoretical and applied implications of these findings; strengths and limitations of the thesis; as well as future research directions. The findings from this thesis provide the first empirical evidence that narcissists are likely to be favourably perceived as leaders, but only in the short-term. This honeymoon effect of narcissistic leadership is characterised by narcissists’ initial success in exhibiting transformational leader behaviours, and their subsequent failure to demonstrate appropriate transformational leader behaviours over time. From an evolutionary perspective, both dominance and prestigious strategies explain followers’ initial positive perceptions of narcissists as leaders. However, dominance strategies seem to allow narcissistic leaders to enjoy that honeymoon effect for a longer period than prestigious strategies. Nevertheless, persisting with dominance strategies over prestigious strategies beyond the initial phase of leadership culminates in the curtailment of followers’ perceptions of narcissistic leaders.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award dateJan 2015