Research, not to mention anecdotal observation, shows that a lot of narcissists end up in leadership positions. That’s because the qualities narcissism enlarges into extremes — confidence, assertiveness, a sense of destiny — help people rise to the top.
Unfortunately, the same qualities of narcissism that help an individual obtain a leadership position, can prevent them from being effective in that position, and from holding onto it.
My guest’s research has uncovered what can be a solution to this dilemma: the timeless virtue of humility. His name is Brad Owens, he’s a professor of business ethics, and we begin our discussion today by digging into the fact that studies done on the effect of narcissism on leadership have been inconsistent, with some showing it to have a positive effect, and others a negative one. Brad explains that the reason these studies may have been inconclusive, is that while narcissism can get someone into a leadership role, it then gets in the way of them succeeding in that role. We then turn to the idea that cultivating humility can temper the negative effects of narcissism, and the three aspects of humility every leader, whether narcissistic or not, should cultivate. We discuss whether there are situations where you do want to be more narcissistic than humble, what a humble, narcissistic leader looks like, and how Steve Jobs and George Washington serve as examples of this combination of qualities.
If reading this in an email, click the title of the post to listen to the show.
- Defining narcissism
- What are the positive outcomes of narcissism?
- What Steve Jobs can tell us about narcissism — both the positives and negatives
- How narcissism can you get you into leadership positions, but then also seed your downfall
- What does it mean to be humble?
- When to be humble, and when to be narcissistic in leadership scenarios
- How George Washington displayed both narcissism and humility
- What could overtly humble leaders learn about being more assertive and confident?
Resources/Articles/People Mentioned in Podcast
- How to Avoid Conversational Narcissism
- How to Develop Greater Self-Awareness
- The Benefits of Pride
- Ego Is the Enemy
- The Virtuous Life: Humility
- Washington by Ron Chernow
- Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
- How to Be Assertive
- How to Stop Being a Nice Guy
- “Is this the secret of smart leadership?”
- “The best bosses are humble bosses”
- “Leaders are more powerful when they are humble”
- Brad’s articles:
Connect With Brad
Brad’s email for scheduling leadership consults: [email protected]
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
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Read the Transcript
If you appreciate the full text transcript, please consider donating to AoM. It will help cover the costs of transcription and allow other to enjoy it. Thank you!
Brett McKay: Brett McKay here, and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. Research, not to mention anecdotal observation, shows that a lot of narcissists end up in leadership positions, that’s because the qualities narcissism enlarges into extremes like confidence, assertiveness, a sense of destiny help people rise to the top. Unfortunately, the same qualities of narcissism that help an individual obtain a leadership position can prevent them from being effective in that position and from holding on to it. My guest’s research has uncovered what can be a solution to this dilemma, the timeless virtue of humility. His name is Brad Owens, he’s a professor of business ethics, and we begin our conversation today by digging into the fact that studies done on the effect of narcissism on leadership have been inconsistent with some showing it to have a positive effect, and others, a negative one. Brad explains that the reason these studies may have been inconclusive is that while narcissism can get someone into a leadership role, it then gets in the way of them succeeding in that new role.
We then turn to the idea that cultivating humility can temper the negative effects of narcissism, the three aspects of humility, every leader, whether narcissistic or not, should cultivate. We then discuss whether there are situations where you do wanna be more narcissistic than humble, what a humble narcissistic leader looks like, and how Steve Jobs and George Washington serve as examples of this combination of qualities. After the show’s over, check out the show notes at aom.is/humblenarcissist. Brad joins you now via clearcast.io.
Alright, Brad Owens, welcome to the show.
Brad Owens: Thanks, Brett. It’s great to be here.
Brett McKay: So you are a professor of business ethics, and one of your areas of focus with your research is the intersection of humility and narcissism in leadership. What led you down that path of research?
Brad Owens: Well, one of the reasons my colleagues, Angela Wallace, David Walden, and I decided to do this research is that the research on leader narcissism has actually been really inconclusive. Narcissism is, generally, unpleasant and off-putting. In our personal relationships, it’s almost… It always leads to poor outcomes. But in organizational leadership, it’s less clear. The data is all over the place. So is narcissism good for leadership? That’s a question that’s been hotly debated and the data hasn’t provided a lot of clarity. In some studies, it’s decidedly negative, in others, it’s actually positive. And so we wondered, “Why is this? Why is narcissism effective for leadership in some instances and ineffective in others?” And when you have these wide swings, usually there’s another piece to the puzzle that isn’t being measured which is influencing these relationships, third variable and moderator that’s not being accounted for that’s impacting things. And our team wondered if examining the impact of humility might explain these inconsistent findings.
So adding clarity to this leader narcissism literature is one reason we decided to do the study, but a deeper reason that may hit closer to home that’s a bit more personal, is the pairing of humility and narcissism represents the classic internal battle, that not just leaders, but most of us grapple with, kind of like the two wolves fighting within each of us from the Native American tale. And so Immanuel Kant calls “self-worship,” which is closely tied to narcissism, the root of all vice. Religious thinkers consider excessive pride as it relates to narcissism to also be a universal sin, for instance. So in contrast, humility has been held up as a foundational virtue that enables all the others. It’s been called the mother virtue that gives life to the other virtues. So because humility entails seeking value beyond the self, it directly counteracts Kant’s idea of the root of all vice, which is self-worship. So if there’s one message that’s consistently been given by past philosophers, historians, and luminaries, it’s that humans get trapped in hubris, narcissism, overconfidence, successive pride. And at the heart of most religions and many secular efforts like moral philosophy that seek to encourage virtue and moral character, humility can be found as a core principle.
And so we hope to provide insight about this internal battle we face between narcissism and humility. And all good research, I believe, also entails some me search where you look inside and you kind of see how this research can apply and inform your own challenges, state of mind and being. And so we hope that this research also could provide some of that insight as we all seek to grapple with this humility and narcissism within each of us.
Brett McKay: You said earlier, narcissism, the research on leadership and narcissism and humility, it’s kind of fuzzy. And as you mentioned, there’s… We typically associate narcissism with negative attributes, but you also, in your research, have highlighted there’s… Narcissism is actually a lot more complex than just bad. There’s some positive things about it as well. So for research purposes, like, how are you defining narcissism? ‘Cause I think a lot of times in the popular culture, we throw that word around a lot, and it doesn’t mean the same thing as a psychologist or a researcher means it.
Brad Owens: Yeah, and you’re absolutely right, there’s a lot of fuzziness around the word “narcissism.” In our research, we use the definition from Ames, Rose, and Anderson, and they suggest narcissism as a complex of characteristics that entails things like an excessively self-centered perspective, self-absorption, extreme confidence, or sense of superiority. It also can entail a strong drive to lead and to succeed, like very, very strong ambition. And so I think it’s important to make it clear that what we’re talking about in our research is what’s called “subclinical narcissism,” it’s a less severe form of narcissism which is probably more malleable. It grows or shrinks based on our experiences and choices. And so, we all need some kind of ego-based tendencies, a measure of self-confidence, self-esteem, drive for accomplishment. The question is, how much, and how do we know when it gotten out of balance? Narcissism represents this condition where those self-based tendencies have kind of gone to an extreme.
And so, we’ve felt that humility, which is cast as “it” virtue… That’s the way people have talked about it, that it guards against extremes. Humility may help put the breaks on some of these ego-based tendencies and prevent them from going to extreme. To get to your question on positive and negative outcomes, I’d say that normally narcissism leads to poor outcomes professionally and relationally. And so, it again, represents those healthy self-preservation and ego-based tendencies that have gone berserk or gone too far. But there have been some scholars who’ve suggested that narcissists can sometimes produce great things.
Brett McKay: Narcissism is complex. There can be positive outcomes in some situations. Are there any examples from your research of CEOs that were… We could describe as narcissists who had a positive impact on the organization?
Brad Owens: So the CEO that we used when we started this research was Steve Jobs. And so Steve Jobs first stint as the head of Apple, he was definitely very talented, a very innovative, intelligent, but he also was really toxic, really hard to work with, very difficult to trust. And he was doing a lot of things that caused individuals to want to leave Apple. And so he eventually was ousted and had nothing to do with Apple for, I believe it was 11 years. And then he was invited back and he still was Steve Jobs. He still had a high level of narcissism, but that narcissism seemed to be tempered by a measure of humility. Steve Jobs called his first firing from Apple “bad-tasting medicine” that the patient probably needed. He was more apt to listen to other people’s ideas and to give credit to the really talented people that were making Apple into the most valuable company in the world at the time. And so, to us, that’s an example of someone who certainly was not able to shed all their narcissism, but by combining it with a measure of humility, they were able to produce a lot of value and maybe reduce a lot of the toxicity of some of their narcissistic tendencies.
Brett McKay: So it sounds like people who are narcissists, they tend to end up being leaders because they’ve got a lot of self-confidence, that drive to lead, they’re ambitious, etcetera. But those things that got them in positions of leadership can sometimes bite them in the butt like Steve Jobs.
Brad Owens: Yeah, yeah. The research is pretty clear that narcissism is positively related to leadership emergence, and those who put themselves on a path to lead in large organizations usually feel that they’re destined for greatness. And so first impressions of narcissists can be quite positive. They initially can seem quite charming, charismatic, confident, and leader-like. However, over time, sometimes this charm can wear off. The true colors are shown and people can become disillusioned as they see more clearly that the charm or the charisma is actually more motivated by self-aggrandizement or desire for praise.
But as these leaders gain power and success accumulates, these self-beliefs are reinforced. And so that success and power can be… However, there are some who do wake up to an awareness of their ballooning narcissism. There’s a book by, I think, Michael Goldman that says, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.” And I read a Harvard Business Review article about the twice-born leader, these ones that wake up and they realize that the very characteristics that got them into leadership positions are the very characteristics that are causing them to lose their following, lose trust with people and burn bridges, unless they’re tempered. So there’s something more that leaders need, and we believe at least some of the answer is humility to help temper, again, some of the more toxic aspects of narcissism help them better leverage the more productive components of narcissism.
Brett McKay: Well then, as you highlight in your research, thanks to scandals in the world of business, or in government… I’m thinking like Enron was a big one that drove… Started driving this… Particularly in popular business books and in research, there’s been a call amongst leadership experts to develop more humility. But like narcissism, humility is also a fuzzy word, a fuzzy concept. So when you’re doing your research about humility, what do you mean by humility?
Brad Owens: Yeah. So we view humility in three dimensions, self-awareness, teachability and then an appreciation of other’s strengths and contributions. In other words, humility influences how we see ourselves more accurately, others more appreciatively, and new information more openly. And so these three dimensions were the result of compiling and synthesizing a large literature from the past both philosophical and psychological, and also from our interviews with organizational leaders, where we interviewed CEOs, mid-level managers, army officers, and asked them, what does leader humility look like? Can you tell us stories about episodes where a leader showed humility, and synthesizing all that data to boil down to these three dimensions.
Brett McKay: Alright so what are those three dimensions again, recap?
Brad Owens: So it’s self-awareness, teachability, and appreciation of other’s strengths and contributions.
Brett McKay: And so what does this look like in action? What are some leaders that exemplify these three or maybe one… Here’s a question, Do you need all three to be humble, or can you have like one or two… What is that? What about that?
Brad Owens: That’s a great question. They actually tend to reinforce one another. So if someone is becoming more self-aware, the limits that they may have, things that they don’t yet know, then they’re more likely to be teachable or open to new ideas and feedback. So I think one of the best ways to illustrate what does humility look like… I’m remembering a story. We interviewed some leaders right after the housing crisis, the mortgage melt-down. We went into mortgage banking companies and we interviewed those leaders. This is an industry that you could say had been humbled. It was a stigmatized industry.
And in the wake of all this, there was a leader that shared the story that they were in a board-room, they were trying to figure out how to help their organization survive, and this leader said, “Look, I know I’ve been a hard-charging kind of a leader, barking orders, but I need everybody’s best ideas. We need to see from everybody’s eyes in order to figure this out. And so I need you to tell me to shut up once in a while and just let us hash out ideas and let everybody give their perspectives because I’m just not good at that. I’m not good at listening like I should be. So I give you all permission to interrupt me and to tell me to just be quiet and let us figure this out all together.”
So that was an example of a leader who showed self-awareness where they saw something that they were weak at, where they showed teachability in asking for everybody’s ideas and validating everybody’s perspectives and saying, “We need everybody to weigh in here in order to figure this out.” Other examples we compiled through these interviews were admitting when you’re wrong, owning bouts of over-confidence, owning up to mistakes, asking for honest and even brutal feedback, being open to suggestions, giving credit where credit’s due, and even being generous in crediting your people for success, even when you had a hand in it. So again, these examples reflect those three dimensions I just talked about.
Brett McKay: But it sounds like self-awareness is the first step. A narcissistic leader has to be aware that they are a narcissist and they need more humility. And so for narcissistic leaders, how does that happen usually? Do they have to get fired and oust from the company like Steve Jobs, or can there be more subtle ways to self-awareness?
Brad Owens: Yeah. So it seemed like they were two paths. And in these interviews, many leaders would talk about their own journeys in overcoming narcissism, that there was many who, when they first got in their leadership role, they felt like a sassy youngster who had to prove themselves and they made a lot of mistakes, and tried to project this omniscient or all-wise posture almost. But then as they showed their fallibility and as that type of leadership just wasn’t working for them, some of them just woke up to the fact that “This is not working, it’s hurting my relationships, it’s making me less effective.” And then they searched for exemplars or other ways of leading, and that often led to things like humility. So that’s one path people take to overcome narcissism or make adjustments in their leadership. Another path is like Steve Jobs. Some significant reversal happened, whether it was a firing or another big failure, and that caused them to be jolted from their frame of mind and their way of leading, and that helped them to, again, try and seek to make changes.
Brett McKay: Well, and being a humble leader is a tricky thing because on the one hand, people who want a humble leader as research shows, but they also want a leader that’s competent and confident. So are there instances where being… Trying to be humble can actually backfire and make the people you’re leading respect you less because you’re admitting your faults like, “I’m just a dumb… I know nothing. Please help me.” and they’re like, “Okay, this is actually… We’re doomed. This guy doesn’t know what he’s doing.”
Brad Owens: Yeah. There are instances, I believe, when humility is not effective for leadership. And it’s surprising. We’ve done some research in the military and interviewing West Point-trained military officers who’ve been deployed a few times, and we asked them, “When is humility less effective, and when does it just not work at all?” And it surprised us how few those circumstances were actually. There are times when, based on the interviews we’ve done, where time is very short and survival is really what the organization or your group of soldiers needs to focus on and to initiate humility in a leadership process often takes time. And so before a mission, when you’re preparing for it, and then after a mission, in a military context, as you’re doing your action review, humility is a great idea. But when the bullets are flying, that’s the time when you need to do everything as a leader to create order out of chaos, to give directives, to shout and even… And swear and do everything to get your soldiers over the hill in order to save their lives.
And so there’s a lot of dramatized leadership scenarios where… In the movies and shows where humility just would not be a good idea. But these military officers were huge advocates of humility and how it was needed, that they needed to figure out a way to teach the cadets, the younger soldiers and leaders how to embrace more humility, lessons that they’d learned through hard experience. And so actually in the last few months, the Army changed their core leadership doctrine to include humility as a fundamental characteristic that they want in military leadership. And so they’re looking for something to counter-balance, the more, you could say agentic top-down, authoritative leadership. And humility, they see is part of the answer.
Brett McKay: Alright. So to sum up, most times you wanna be humble, but when there’s a crisis going on, so if there’s lives on the line, or if there’s a business, you’re in a business and there’s a crisis and decisions have to be made, that’s when you’d want a more… I don’t know, a narcissistic leader, not the humility. But most time the default should be humility.
Brad Owens: Yeah.
Brett McKay: Yeah. Well, it’s okay, so there’s self-awareness, being teachable, and that means just… Like that one example you gave, that means a leader going to the people that he leads and saying, “Teach me. Tell me what to do.” How do you… What does that look like without it being condescending or… People take it the wrong way.
Brad Owens: I think that when the leader actually does have more experience than everyone else, and when the leader has been… Has training that everyone else doesn’t have, and it’s obvious that that leader’s perspective is probably the most valuable, then I think that people sense that. And for the leader to be overtly or overly teachable in that moment, people might feel that that’s just wasting time. But in many scenarios, there is quite a bit of uncertainty and they’re not… We’re dealing with probabilities, again, rather than certainties. And I think in those situations, then it makes a lot of sense for a leader to admit and say, “Look, I have some ideas about what may happen and which way we should go, but let’s all of us consider this and put it together.” There was one example that was shared from, again, these West Point leader interviews where this captain was deployed, he got his first day in Afghanistan, the leader at the base where he was at said, “We’ve just received intel that this base is gonna be attacked from two different angles and it’s gonna involve suicide attacks as well.” The leader basically gave it to him and said, “You just got out of West Point, you have great tactical training. Why don’t you go ahead and put the plan together to save the base tomorrow.”
And so this leader said, “I could have touted my West Point training and pretended that I knew exactly what to do,” but he instead, he brought everyone in the room and he said, “Look, you know this base, you know the geography around it, you know the enemy better than I do. We need everyone to put their heads together to put together a strategy that’s gonna make it most likely for us to save as many lives as possible and to succeed tomorrow.” So they worked through the night. He was very open to everyone’s ideas and feedback, and they cobbled together last-minute a defensive strategy, that was a wild success. Very few injuries. I don’t think there were any casualties. And he credits it to that position he took in the moment he was tempted to not be teachable, but he said that because he was teachable and got everybody’s input and perspective that it was the resounding success that it couldn’t have been otherwise.
Brett McKay: And I was gonna say, and what your research has shown too is that the quality of teachability from a leader, it rubs off, it goes… It rubs off on the people they lead. When people see that, “Oh, this guy who’s supposedly made it, if he’s continuing to learn. Maybe I should do that too,” which that’s great for the organization if everyone’s continually learning and adapting.
Brad Owens: Yeah. Humility is like many leadership characteristics when a leader sends the signals what’s appropriate, in an otherwise ambiguous social context, what the leader does legitimizes that behavior. And so if a leader is narcissistic, it legitimizes narcissism in an organization. But if they’re humble, then others feel free to be more open to teaching and development rather than status-seeking or hiding what they don’t know. And so this leader contagion effect, I think is we found it empirically, both in the field and in experimental studies, it can be very powerful. So leaders understanding that, how they choose to lead will influence and cascade down the organization. And so when we asked these CEOs and other leaders what does humility do psychologically for followers, the answer was that it legitimizes the followers own developmental journeys. And that liberates them from what’s called the evaluation apprehension. There’s all kinds of positive productive benefits when the leader chooses to trade a little bit of their status, a little bit of their power in order to legitimize learning and development for everyone.
Brett McKay: Well, a third aspect of humility is recognizing the contributions of those you lead or those that follow you. That often involves giving praise. And I think a lot of leaders, they read those in the airport business books that they read, they pick up at the store, they’re like, “Oh yeah, I need to give praise,” and so they give praise. But that can backfire too, because people, they can sniff out if it’s sincere or not.
Brad Owens: Right, yeah. I think that there is an art to giving praise in a way that it’ll be authentic and sincere, and even powerful. It’s one of the most powerful things a leader can do is to sincerely praise the people that they’re leading. And I think that two things to remember is the praise has to be specific. Very general praise can communicate this idea that the leader just doesn’t really know what I do or what I contribute. So I think it has to be specific and then related to that, it has to be accurate. It can really backfire if you praise someone for doing something that they didn’t do. And it is true that someone may receive praise, and think, “Am I really adding that to this organization?” We do have both positive and negative blind spots, and I think a good leader is one who tries to help everyone understand more fully, to own and to leverage the strengths that they have, that they may themselves not fully see. But when employees hear specific and accurate feedback, they feel known and understood and appreciated.
Brett McKay: So a person who’s narcissistic, they tend to emerge as leaders, ’cause those attributes of narcissism that you’re talking about, help people, like, they’re confident, they’re assertive, they’re ambitious, etcetera. Eventually that can backfire if they don’t temper it with humility. So what does a humble narcissistic leader look like? What do you think? How would you describe that?
Brad Owens: So I think a humble narcissistic leader, if you see a continuum of these self-based or ego-based tendencies, and in some degree, I think I’ve mentioned that they are healthy, self-esteem, self-confidence, some measure of self-interest. The humble narcissistic leader is one who is inclined to have too much of that, but they are transparent about it, they’re working on it, they’re kind of a recovering narcissist, so to speak… They try to embrace some of these habits of humility, these approaches to help counter this internal inclination. And so some levels of narcissism just are very hard to change. There’s actually some research by David Chester and his colleagues where they found that there’s neural deficits for narcissists, that they’re actually hard-wired differently, and that the reward centers of the brain and the self-evaluative centers of the brain are more disconnected than they are for normal people, meaning it’s harder for narcissists to feel good about themselves, and so they seek external validation.
And so for those individuals, I don’t know if there’s a lot of room to move the needle, but for most of the rest of us who have both narcissism, narcissistic tendencies, as well as… And we see the value of humility, we can make choices in order to surround ourselves with people who will keep us grounded, who won’t enable narcissism, but instead, may challenge it. We can be constantly seeking feedback, we can be overtly trying to give credit to other people, even if internally, initially, we don’t feel like we’re… That comes natural to us. So from the leaders that I’ve talked to and that we documented their stories, it does get easier, they see the benefits of humility. And I’m thinking back to even Aristotle, when he talked about what are virtues like humility, what is the nature of them, he viewed those more as skills that we choose to develop, moral muscles that we choose to grow rather than innate characteristics that we have. So your question about what does a humble narcissist look like, it’s one who’s embraced this idea that all the possible virtues that we could develop like humility are like muscles that we can choose to develop. And even if I’m inclined to be narcissistic, I embrace humility and try to practice it in order to stave off the more toxic aspects of that narcissism.
Brett McKay: So you mentioned Steve Jobs as sort of a paradigm of someone who is narcissist, but eventually was able to temper it a bit.
Brad Owens: Yeah.
Brett McKay: Not completely, a bit with some humility. Any other examples of humble narcissistic leaders from… It could be even like the realm of politics, history. Any other that stand out to you?
Brad Owens: Yeah, so there’s one that I think is really interesting, if you look at, for instance, this is a historical example, but the life of George Washington. Young George Washington, he was obsessed with becoming prominent. And in his youthful and outsized ambition, he made some foolish blunders that were setbacks for him in at the time, the British military. He thought a lot about his legacy, but he also was one that was aware of it and he learned from his blunders, and he really tried to improve himself and overcome some of his natural inclinations that were unfavorable. And over time, he became someone who was a very polished person, a very effective leader. And so that’s an example of someone who, again, deep in his bones, he really wanted to make a mark on the world. And that’s… He really cared about what history would say about him, but at the same time, he really embraced many aspects of humility. And one of my favorite kind of stories about George Washington is when King George, whom George Washington had just beaten in war, heard that Washington’s plan was to give all military power back to congress rather than keeping it for himself, like Napoleon and many other leaders who were in a similar position, when King George heard that Washington intended to do that, he said, “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”
And so I think it’s interesting that George Washington, his leadership prowess and military expertise that beat King George in war, was not what made him the greatest man in the world, it was actually kind of this act of humility of giving power back to Congress that actually completed George Washington as being this humble leader who also had gained a great amount of power and respect. So I think as far as humble narcissists, I think that George Washington may reflect that combination.
Brett McKay: That’s a good one. Alright, so we talked about people who are narcissists, that who are leaders, they can temper that narcissism with humility. What about people who are just like, just humble? They’re just easy going, they’re not narcissistic. To be effective leaders, should they learn to be a bit more narcissistic? Has your research looked into that?
Brad Owens: So we haven’t directly looked into that, but what I would say is I don’t think narcissism is what overtly humble people need. And again, along that spectrum of those self-preservation or ego-based tendencies that I mentioned, there’s a healthy level of self-confidence and desire to lead and wanting to achieve greatly. But that doesn’t necessarily devolve into full-on narcissism, which is, I think extreme, and in most cases, toxic. But you make a good point that sometimes people who are humble need to assert themselves more, they need to exhibit more strength and confidence. And so I’d recommend cultivating greater awareness of one’s strengths through either feedback, coaching or introspection, and then working to more fully own those strengths and practice leveraging them more frequently and effectively in one’s role.
And also, if you’re in a new role, I think it’s really important, and we found this over and over, that if you’re a brand new leader, establishing some baseline reputation for competence is really important for subsequent kind of expressions of humility to be seen favorably. The leadership scholars called this “idiosyncracy credits.” You kinda have to build equity with people, like, “Why should we follow you?” You have to fulfill their expectations for what it means to be leader-like. And then once you’ve done that, expressions of humility are actually seen as pro-social, as moral attempts to give praise and to be a moral good leader. If you don’t have that baseline reputation for competence, then expressions of humility actually can hurt you and hurt your leadership. So it’s called “primacy effects.” The first impression really does matter, but once that’s established, then you have some freedom to approach your leadership with more humility.
Brett McKay: Or I need street cred first.
Brad Owens: Yeah, that’s it, street cred.
Brett McKay: Yeah street cred, well, what’s the future of this research? Do you have any other questions you wanna explore with this intersection of narcissism and humility, or even just the topic of humility and leadership?
Brad Owens: Yeah. We have a paper under review that looks more at the neurology behind narcissism, and so we’re trying to get a bit more physiological about this, and we are seeing some interesting differences between brains that are inclined to be more narcissistic and those that are inclined to be more humble. And so I think that’s an important piece. Also just looking at whether or not humility and the effects of humility last over the long-term, meaning a leader shows humility in one instance, how long does that effect take to wear off? How long does leader to follow contagion effect take? So there’s also a lot that needs to be done with regard to training and developing humility. And so I think that’s kind of where we’re headed. We do some leadership training and speaking, but we want to… We’re in the process of getting some grants in order to take a careful look at how to incorporate humility or help someone to embrace it and use it effectively over the long term.
Brett McKay: Well, Brad, this has been a great conversation. Is there some place people can go to read the research you’ve done or check out what you’ve been doing?
Brad Owens: Yeah, so I think one of the best places to look is… There’s articles on Google Scholar that you can look at. Look at leader humility and Owens, you can also just look at… I have a CV that has a list of all of the articles that have been published in the popular press with regard to this Harvard Business Review, Ink Magazine, Huffington, Washington Post. And so those are some areas that people can go to to get more and deeper insight about what we’ve been up to.
Brett McKay: Fantastic. We’ll also link to those in our show notes. Well, Brad Owens, thanks for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
Brad Owens: Thank you.
Brett McKay: My guest today was Brad Owens, he’s a professor of business ethics at BYU Marriott School of Business. You can find all of his research on humility, narcissism, and leadership on Google Scholar. We’ve included a list of links to all of his research on our show notes. Make sure to check it out at aom.is/humblenarccisist.
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