Those who grow up rich make more narcissistic leaders, study finds

Your parents' income has more of an effect on your leadership than you may know, according to the Harvard Business Review.

A group of three researchers — Sean Martin, PhD; Stéphane Côté, PhD; and Col. Todd Woodruff, PhD — were interested in the relationship between income inequality and workplace leadership.

To take a closer look at the dynamic, they analyzed a group of U.S. Army soldiers who graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point (N.Y.) and are currently serving in military leadership roles. First, they looked through their West Point applications to gather information about their parents' incomes.

Next, the researchers sent the soldiers a survey, which assessed their levels of narcissism. The soldiers marked whether or not they agreed with certain statements, including "Many group activities tend to be dull without me" and  "I know that I am special because everyone keeps telling me so."

The researchers also got the soldiers' followers involved, asking them to rate their leaders based on three characteristics: relational behaviors, task behaviors and change-related behaviors. The followers also assessed their leaders regarding their performance levels and their willingness to assist.

After collecting all this data, the researchers came to a conclusion: Higher levels of parental income are directly correlated to greater levels of narcissism in adults, and this higher level of narcissism translates to lesser interest in relational, task and change-oriented behaviors. Relational behaviors involve showing concern for others, task behaviors include organizing individuals' roles in a group task and change-related behaviors are associated with a willingness to promote innovative and unique thinking.

According to Drs. Martin, Côté and Col. Woodruff, narcissism can have a positive effect on leadership, such as leaving a strong first impression during a job interview. But its negative impacts are undeniable. Narcissists' focus on themselves rather than interpersonal relationships can destroy future opportunities for collaboration.

"In order to enable excellent leadership, companies should try to standardize formal practices that can mitigate narcissism, including highlighting and prioritizing compassion and care for others in the workplace and creating a culture that recognizes and rewards service to others," the researchers wrote in the Harvard Business Review. "Doing so might allow those who come from higher-income backgrounds to make better use of the advantages that a privileged background affords, and might place greater value on things that those from lower-income backgrounds to well — making the workplace more fulfilling for everyone."

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