Narcissistic bosses hinder the flow of knowledge, cooperation within organizations

Narcissism is a dominant trait among senior executives, and most people have seen evidence of it in their workplace.

These people believe they have superior confidence, intelligence, and judgment, and will seize any opportunity to reinforce these exaggerated opinions and win admiration. According new search from the University of Washington, narcissism can also create knowledge barriers within organizations.

When different units of the same company share information, it improves performance and creates competitive advantage. Narcissists hinder this transfer of knowledge due to a sense of superiority that causes them to overestimate the value of internal knowledge and underestimate the value of external knowledge.

“Many large companies are what could be described as multi-company firms, a form of organization where you have a parent company and subsidiaries,” said co-author Abhinav Gupta, associate professor of management at the University of Washington (UW) Foster School. work. “The financial logic why these companies exist is that the knowledge and skills that reside in one unit can be used in another unit.”

But the units don’t work with each other as much as companies would like, Gupta said. The study, published in the Strategic management review, revealed that certain executive personality traits – particularly narcissism – impede the flow of information.

“Narcissism affects people’s desire to be distinctive,” Gupta said. “It’s correlated by people wanting the glory for themselves. We hypothesized that business unit leaders who exhibit these characteristics would be the ones who would say, “We don’t want to work with you.” We have enough skills, knowledge and abilities to work independently. This was very strongly confirmed based on our research design.

The authors interviewed the business units of a headhunting company in China that helps organizations recruit talent and find technical staff. These units should share their knowledge on building talent pools, identifying skills, and persuading prospects to accept offers.

The researchers asked unit leaders to rate, among other factors, their own narcissistic traits, local market environmental complexity, and perceived competition with other units. They then asked MPs to rate the level of knowledge imported from other units.

Narcissism was measured using the Narcissistic Personality Inventory 16-item self-report scale, which presents pairs of statements and asks individuals to select the one that best describes them. One pair consisted of “I like to be the center of attention” and “I prefer to blend in with the crowd”.

The study found that unit leader narcissism can inhibit knowledge sharing. This tendency diminished in fast-paced or complex environments because narcissists had an excuse to pursue outside ideas. But when companies have strong inter-unit competition, narcissists are more tempted to distinguish themselves from other units.

The research has multiple implications for business, Gupta said. For example, when performing roles that require knowledge sharing, managers may watch for signs of narcissistic personality traits. Companies could also design an organization and reward structure that encourages cooperation among current staff.

“There are two perspectives on how multi-enterprise companies create value,” Gupta said. “One perspective is that you want to run an organization like a home market. All units are actively competing for head office resources, and that competition is what enables superior performance.

“This research kind of goes against that. If you create the perception of competition within an organization, it will have downstream effects. You will essentially forego some essential knowledge sharing activities. »

– This press release was originally published on the University of Washington website

Donald E. Patel