Leader Consultation Mitigates the Harmful Effects of Leader Narcissism: A Belongingness Perspective

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Author Information : Joel B. Carnevale (Syracuse University); Lei Huang (Auburn University)* Peter Harms (University of Alabama) * Joel Carnevale and Lei Huang share the first authorship of this paper.

Year of Publication : Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes (2018)

Summary of Findings : Narcissistic leaders reduce employees' sense of belonging at work, causing employees to decrease their citizenship behaviors (voice and helping) and increase their dysfunctional behaviors (resistance and badmouthing), but these effects can be neutralized when narcissistic leaders consult with their employees.

Research Questions : Does leader narcissism threaten employees' sense of belonging at work? Do employees react to their diminished belongingness by dysfunctionally resisting their narcissistic leader and speaking negatively about their leader to coworkers? Do employees react to their diminished belongingness by refraining from speaking up about work-related issues and withholding their assistance to the work-group? Can narcissistic leaders' use of manipulative influence tactics lessen the harmful consequences of their narcissistic tendencies on employee outcomes?

What we know : Although conventional wisdom suggests that narcissistic leaders frustrate and demotivate those they lead, research suggests that narcissists may intentionally use social influence to present themselves in more socially acceptable ways in order to accomplish their own agenda. We currently know little about why narcissistic leaders frustrate and demotivate their employees and the conditions under which their manipulative tendencies can mitigate this impact.

Novel Findings : By focusing on employees' sense of belonging at work, this research sheds light on how and and why narcissistic leaders demotivate and frustrate their employees. In addition, this research demonstrates how employees are likely to react to their narcissistic leader. Narcissistic leaders are highly sensitive, and may retaliate against perceived slights or offenses. Employees were found to express their frustrations in response to their reduced sense of belonging in less noticeable ways, such as by reducing their discretionary work behavior or by aggressing covertly. Importantly, narcissistic leaders who deploy consultative influence tactics can alleviate these harmful consequences. These findings show that narcissistic leaders can deviate from their trait tendencies in order to achieve their goals, thus challenging the idea that narcissists may be unable to regulate their behavior.

Abstract : Drawing from belongingness theory, the present study proposes and empirically tests the impact of leader-rated narcissism on employees’ citizenship and antagonistic behaviors via their organization-based self-esteem (OBSE) depending on conditions of leader consultation behaviors. Survey data collected from 262 leader-employee dyads at a large Chinese information technology company largely supported our predictions. The results show that leader narcissism threatens employees’ OBSE and further exerts negative indirect effects on their promotive voice and helping behaviors and positive indirect effects on their dysfunctional resistance and badmouthing. The results further illustrate that the negative relationship between leader narcissism and employee OBSE and the indirect effects of leader narcissism on the four outcomes via OBSE are significant only under conditions where narcissistic leaders fail to consult with their employees. Such effects turn non-significant in the presence of high leader consultation. Theoretical and practical implications are offered along with limitations and suggestions for future research directions.

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Narcissistic leaders reduce employees’ sense of belonging at work, causing employees to decrease their citizenship behaviors (voice and helping) and increase their dysfunctional behaviors (resistance and badmouthing), but these effects can be neutralized when narcissistic leaders consult with their employees.

Joel Carnevale
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Joel Carnevale

Joel Carnevale teaches management and organizational behavior courses. His research interests include employee ethicality and prosocial behavior, including within a leadership context. He also researches neuroimaging technology (e.g. fMRI) as it applies to ethical decision-making and prosocial behavior. He earned a B.S. in economics and MBA from Radford University in Radford, Virginia, and a Ph.D. in management, focused on organizational studies, strategy and change from the Raymond J. Harbert College of Business at Auburn University.
Joel Carnevale
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