Leaders, Teamworkers and Narcissists

Can a team with a narcissist be a winning team?

There has been much research by academics into winning teams, specifically entrepreneurs, leadership and senior management teams. We can now identify the team member characteristics required for the successful team. Unfortunately, the success of any team can be compromised if just one of the team members is a narcissist.

You can only achieve your goals in collaboration with others, so leadership skills and teamwork cannot be ignored. But the whole process will be sabotaged if you don’t have the ability to recognise narcissism at work. Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries, a renowned academic, stated:1

"One of the problems has been that too many theories about organizations have had their gestation in the ivory towers of academia... often far removed from the reality of day-to-day life."

Winning Teams has one foot in academia and one foot in the reality of day-to-day life. It doesn't just identify what traits the successful team needs, it also identifies what traits it doesn't need. Such information, particularly in relation to, for example, boards of directors, cannot be found elsewhere as few academic researchers have been able to gain access to complete senior management teams, particularly in 'growth' organizations.

The dearth of empirical studies into successful teams at the top of organizations is due to the huge difficulty in gaining access to all members of a senior management team. Here are some quotes from academics who have recognized the problem:

"One reason is the lack of access to such top management teams. It is almost impossible to obtain the commitment of the whole (or even most) of the team to participate in a study."2

"… managers tend to be powerful and busy people. … feasible research questions may be determined more by access possibilities than by theoretical considerations."3

"Finding and gaining access to [senior management] teams in rapid growth firms is not an easy task."4

Havaleschka5 carried out research into winning teams and asked the question, "Does the top-level management team make the difference between a company's success and failure?" Following empirical investigation he asserted that his conclusion was definitive, stating, "…in the end, the success and failure of a company depends on the personality of the leader and the composition of the personalities in the group of top leaders."

Despite the lack of research into winning teams, it is still critical that you know the personality characteristics of your senior management team members.

Team design

Ruth Wageman used a multi-method field study to examine the effects of two kinds of leader behaviour on the effectiveness of self-managing teams. The two kinds of leader behaviour related to team design and team coaching. The study revealed that the quality of coaching had no effect on team task performance. The design of the team was paramount when measuring performance.6

But if you have a team member that doesn't fit, a narcissist for example, preventing the team from becoming a winning team, don't make the mistake of thinking that you can change him or her by, for example, coaching. Research has shown that personality characteristics remain relatively stable in adulthood. The five broad domains of personality known as the Big Five; extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and intellect or openness, were found to have a high level of stability over time. The median correlation for measures of the Big Five across time points of three to thirty years apart was high (r = 0.65).7

So if you want a winning team, it is essential that you identify senior management team members, including the leader, with the right personality characteristics. But with the scarcity of appropriate research in this field, there is very little information available in the public domain to enable you to achieve this. This is where Winning Teams may help to fill the gap by helping you understand yourself, your leader or your managers. In particular, Winning Teams will help you identify narcissistic behavior and give you the tools to deal with it.

For more about leaders, teamworkers and narcissists, read Narcissism: Behind the Mask.

1 Kets de Vries, M.F.R. (1994), The leadership mystique, Academy of Management Executive, Vol. 8, No. 3, pp. 583-601.
2 Lessem, R. and Baruch, Y. (2000), Testing the SMT and Belbin inventories in top management teams, Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 21, No. 2, pp. 75-84.
3 Easterby-Smith, M., Thorpe, R. and Lowe, A. (1991), Management Research: An Introduction, Sage Publications Ltd., London.
4 Vyakarnam, S., Jacobs, R.C. and Handelberg, J. (1999), Exploring the formation of entrepreneurial teams: The key to rapid growth business? Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, Vol. 6, No. 2. pp. 153-165.
5 Havaleschka, F. (1999), Personality and leadership: a benchmark study of success and failure, Leadership and Organizational Development Journal, Vol. 20, No. 3, pp. 114-132.
6 Wageman, R. (2001), How leaders foster self-managing team effectiveness: design choices versus hands-on coaching, Organization Science, Vol. 12, No. 5, pp. 559-578.
7 Costa, P.T. and McCrae, R.R. (1994), 'Set like plaster! Evidence for the stability of adult personality', in T.F. Heatherton and J.L. Weinbeiger (Eds.), Can Personality Change? American Psychological Association, Washington DC.