Return to site

Are employees more resilient when narcissistic leadership is present in the workplace?

Basia Skudrzyk

· workplace,narcissism,leadership,communication,employment

Employee resilience captures the extent to which employees successfully deal with change and abusive practices at work and to which they adapt accordingly to thrive in a work environment (Näswall, Kuntz, & Malinen, 2015). In the past, employee resilience was relatedto higher levels of job performance and organizational commitment (Malik & Garg, 2017) and employee creativity (Huang & Luthans, 2015). Resilience now may be understood as a developable capability and research has recognized the importance of leadership associated with employee resilience. Some research has recognized the importance of leadership for employee resilience. The link between resilience and narcissistic leadership in the workplace has not been clearly established.

          Know your people.” A statement like this may suggest to leaders that they should understand their teams’ personality to be able to best support resilience in difficult and dynamic work environments. The average follower invests in employee resilience under leader-member exchanges that primarily builds on trust, respect, and fellowship. Organizations are consistently noted for unethical behaviors and who are implicating their leaders by encouraging subordinate employees to
advance organizational objectives through unethical behavior (Mesdaghinia et al., 2022).

Leader immorality encouragement (LIE) is an employee’s perception that their leader encourages unethical behavior to aid the organization in unethical pro-organizational behavior. This type of behavior is encouraged when employees disengage their moral compass due to expectations of the rewards provided to them. A relationship between LIE and unethical behavior is most present when the leader has higher quality exchange relationship with the employee they are supervising and when the employee perceives their leader has higher organizational status (Mesdaghinia et al., 2022).  

          Social cognitive theory supports the importance of anticipated rewards for behaviors promoted by role models (Bandura, 1986; Umphress et al., 2010). Leaders’ influence is in most circumstances greater when they have more legitimacy, respect, and power. LIE paves the way for supporting corrupt organization cultures where unethical behavior is expected, systemic and institutionalized (Ashforth & Anand, 2003; Brief et al., 2001; Pinto et al., 2008). Leaders may subject themselves to such practices rather than doing the tasks themselves with plausible deniability if unethical behavior becomes known.

Leaders control outcomes that are important for employees. Such examples include financial rewards, employment, promotion flexibility of schedules and favorable work assignments. According to Mesdaghnia et al. (2022), “Based on social cognitive theory’s assertion that leader status enhances social learning from leaders, researchers have hypothesized and found that factors that boost the perceived status of supervisors (ex. High performance and power distance) enhance followers’ modeling of their supervisors’ abusive behaviors.”

When exposed to LIE, employees learn that unethical behavior brings success and as a result can be justified due to workplace cultural norms and expectations. Through such thinking, an employee disengages morally to achieve success including self-serving unethical behaviors. When leaders are narcissistic, leaders attempt to further their organization’s objectives when they encourage their subordinates to unethical behavior. Incivility is associated with a low-intensity and non-physical form of mistreatment. Incivility carries an ambiguous intention to harm; especially when it relates to leaders who present narcissistic behaviors. As a result, subordinates may have little means to protect themselves from this type of behavior, and the impact becomes lingering. Such employees feel helpless and in return present with unfavorable affective, cognitive, and attitudinal outcomes, stimulate dysfunctional behaviors, and reduce well-being (Andersson & Pearson, 1999).

Research has shown that employees that gravitate towards submissive behavior are non-aggressive, and do not like conflict. They gravitate towards accepting expectations their narcissistic leader expects of them. Incivility is a manifestation of a higher-order mistreatment construct of narcissism, and it has incremental predictive validity over other forms of mistreatment (Yao et al., 2022).

Society questions why people engage in unethical behavior in the workplace, and may not understand the internal semantics, workplace culture, expectations of superiors and dysfunctional relationship patterns in the workplace. Studies on abusive leadership traditionally target the employee who practices unethical behavior without looking into the supervisor and organization’s culture and dynamics. Employees exhibiting unethical behavior may not see themselves as victims, but instead blame themselves. Research shows that employees who engage in unethical activity blame themselves, feel guilty, and try to make it up to their abusive supervisor by helping them more. Abusive supervision evokes organizationally productive subordinate responses and can paradoxically increase agreement directed at the perpetrator – helping the abusive supervisor (Troster & Quaquebeke, 2021). Emotional process theory of abusive supervisors teaches that employees exhibit such feelings and behavior when they have an outstanding relationship with their supervisor. The employee and supervisor have strong (highLMX) (Troster & Quaquebeke, 2021) due to the trust the employee feels
toward their supervisor.

In the last 30 years, behavioral scientists examined narcissism and its consequence in non-clinical environments. Through meta-analysis research, it is established that discriminant and incremental validity of narcissism is strongest over and above Machiavellianism and the Big Five (Howes et al, 2020). Narcissism receives considerable attention in the media due to politics as well as in academic settings. Much research is dedicated to variables associated with aggression, interpersonal difficulties, antisocial tactics, leadership effectiveness, job performance and counterproductive work behaviors (O’Boyle et al., 2012). It has not been explored how these variables and narcissism are associated with an employee’s tenacity to continue and persevere.

Despite the benefits leaders have within the organizational structure of their organization, evidence shows that supervisory leaders experience envy of their direct reports (Yu et al, 2018). When there is a threat of self-esteem by the leader, behavioral responses are produced to reduce the perceived gap between the envier and envied (Yu et al., 2018). Emotions are positive and negative and serve as social functions that keep people mindful of conditions that are not optimal. “The damage to employees and employers that abusive supervision causes havebeen well documented and organizations must be vigilant to the possibility of abusive behavior coming from their leadership ranks (Teper et al., 2017).

CEO narcissism is compared to many negative organizational outcomes including overinvestment in research and development, and M&A expenditures (but not in capital expenditures). There is lower financial productivity associated with profits and operating cash flows. Employees’ experiences, values, and personalities are affected by company related decisions and may make different decisions based on those experiences. When studying narcissistic leaders, studies show they have suboptimal group decision outcomes by dominating the decision-making process without listening to feedback or
suggestions from other group members (Ham et al., 2017).

Employees may present themselves as being resilient,but studies show that workplace stress triggers employee anxiety and anger as major negative emotional responses. The stimulus of abusive leadership is a political activity that strengthens subordinates’ job performance (Lin et al, 2021). When organizations incorporate an “all-star”mentality on performance without regard to considering intrinsic attributes that affect team members’ willingness and ability to work toward common goals,
disaster may occur. When the workplace hires people with highly narcissistic behaviors, the dynamics and productivity of the team fail. When observing sports teams, athletes may be all-stars in their field, but may have more difficulty playing together or working collaboratively and effectively due to their narcissistic composition. Team success is a function of employees’ task competence and resources provided but depends greatly on intangible attributes that influence how team members communicate with one another (Grijalva et al., 2020).

From the agency model of narcissism, narcissists are high in agency (dominance and independence) and low in communion (nurturance and warmth). Social exchange theory demonstrates that interpersonal interactions unfold through a process of reciprocity where both positive and negative transactions are repaid in kind and evoke reciprocal selfishness from exchange partners (Grijalva et al, 2020). Narcissist’s pursuit of admiration and success comes at the expense of employees who are resilient but assume a tremendous expense and hardship when the team does not maintain healthy functional working relationships in highly interdependent contexts over time. Narcissism has been studied as a positive as well as a negative trait. It is a personality disorder in which a person is preoccupied with power, self and vanity.
Narcissists often pursue leadership and work for their personal interests which ultimately affect others’ well-being. It affects employee performance and leads toward turnover.
The success of any organization relies on the ability of its leader to optimize the development of an employee within their organization. It is believed that leadership style of the boss has significant relationship with employee job performance. The stress caused by poor supervision often results in compromised well-being, and the outcomes are either mental or physical disturbance. In conclusion, leadership style has a significant impact on subordinates’ performance which ultimately leads to organizational success. 


Andersson, L. M., & Pearson, C. M. (1999). Tit for tat? The spiraling effect of incivility in the
workplace. Academy of Management Review, 24, 452—471.

Gabriel, A. S., Lanaj, K., & Jennings, R. E. (2021). Is one the loneliest number? A within-person
examinationof the adaptive and maladaptive consequences of leader loneliness at
Journal of Applied Psychology, 106(10),1517–1538.

Grijalva, E., Maynes, T. D., Badura, K. L., &Whiting, S. W. (2020). Examining the “I” in team:
A longitudinal investigation of the influence of team narcissism composition on team
outcomes in the NBA. Academyof Management Journal, 63, 7-33.

Ham, C. & Seybert, N. & Wang, S. (2018).Narcissism is a bad sign: CEO signature size,
investment, and performance. Review of Accounting Studies, 23, 234-264.

Howes, S. S., Kausel, E. E., Jackson, A. T., & Reb,J. (2020). When and why narcissists exhibit
greater hindsight bias and less perceived learning. Journal of Management, 46, 1498–

Huang, L., & Luthans, F. (2015). Toward better understanding of the learning goal orientation–
relationship. Applied Psychology, 64 (2), 444–472.

Lagios, C., Restubog, S. L. D., Garcia, P., & He, Y.(2023, in press). A trickle-out model of
organizational dehumanization and displaced aggression. Journal of Vocational Behavior. 

Lin, C.-J., Pauleen, D., & Li, C.-R. (2022).Perceived abusive leadership, narcissistic personality,
and employee’s political behaviors: A moderated-mediation model. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 29, 409–423.

Malik, P., & Garg, P. (2017). Learning organization and work engagement: The mediating role
of employee resilience. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 124. doi:

O’Boyle, E. H., Forsyth,D. R., Banks, G. C., & McDaniel, M.A. (2012). A meta-analysis of the
Dark Triad and work behavior. A social exchange perspective. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97: 557-559.

Mesdaghinia, S., Eisenberger, R., Wen, X.,Liu, Z., Lewis, B. A., Qiu, F., & Shapiro, D. L.
(2022). How leaders drive followers’ unethical behavior. Journal of Management, 1-36.

Näswall, K., Kuntz, J., & Malinen, S. (2015). Employee resilience scale (EmpRes): Technical
report (Resilient Organizations Research Report 2015/04).Christchurch, New Zealand:
University of Canterbury.

Troester C., Van Quaquebeke N. (2021). When victims help their abusive supervisors: The role.
of LMX, self-blame, and guilt. Academy of Management Journal, 64,1793-1815.

Twenge, J. M., Konrath, S., Foster, J. D., Campbell, W., & Bushman, B. J. (2008). Egos inflating
overtime: A cross‐temporal meta‐analysis of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. Journal of Personality, 76(4), 875902. doi:

Yao, J., Lim, S., Guo, C. Y., Ou, A. Y., &Ng, J. W. X. (2022). Experienced incivility in the workplace: A meta-analytical review of its construct validity and nomological network. Journal ofApplied Psychology, 107(2), 193–220.

Yu, L., Duffy, M. K., & Tepper, B. J. (2018). Consequences of downward envy: A model of self-
esteem threat, abusive supervision, and supervisory leader self-improvement. Academy of
Management Journal, 61. 2296–2318.