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Explaining the Paradox of Leader Narcissism – How does Leader Narcissism Interact with Intrapersonal and Contextual Factors?

ZOU, LEAH,LIHUI (2023) Explaining the Paradox of Leader Narcissism – How does Leader Narcissism Interact with Intrapersonal and Contextual Factors? Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Author-imposed embargo until 08 March 2026.


Narcissism is a personality trait that is associated with an exaggerated preoccupation of the self, lack of empathy, power-striving, and grandiose fantasies. This PhD thesis includes four empirical studies that investigated the intrapersonal and the organizational factors influencing how leader narcissism manifests in attitudes and behaviors. Two empirical chapters, each with two studies, focus on different aspects of leader narcissism. Study 1 (N = 73) and Study 2 (N = 157) in Chapter 2 examine how intrapersonal factors affect trait manifestation. Specifically, I distinguished two subtypes of narcissism – grandiosity and vulnerability – and investigated how they interact with levels of identity, thereby influencing leadership outcomes (abusive supervision, workplace incivility, workplace deviance, and transformational leadership). Levels of identity refers to the extent to which one constructs their self-concept in relation to themselves (individual), and to a group (collective). While the research that was conducted during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic produced null results, Chapter 2 provides a valuable blueprint for future research that distinguishes leaders’ grandiose and vulnerable narcissism. Chapter 3 investigates the role of organizational factors in affecting how leader narcissism manifests. I studied if the interplay between leader narcissism and motivational climates affects the trust followers have in their leaders (Study 3, N = 546 leaders, 1717 = followers). I focused specifically on performance climates (fostering competition) and mastery climates (fostering cooperation). Study 3 found that there was no direct relationship between leader narcissism and follower trust. However, such a relationship was significant and negative when performance climates were strong rather than weak. Similarly, the relationship between leader narcissism and follower trust was negative and significant when the mastery climates were weak. In addition, a follow-up study provided further insights into the intrapersonal processes: I investigated how narcissistic leaders’ self-enhancement in the agentic and the communal domains was affected by their perceptions of the motivational climates (Study 4a, N = 100; Study 4b, N = 101). The findings showed that different levels of abusive supervision occurred depending on whether leader narcissism interacted with performance or mastery climates, respectively. It was found that higher, rather than lower performance climates triggered narcissistic leaders’ agentic tendencies that resulted in abusive supervision. However, there was no interaction effect between leader narcissism and mastery climates that led to a mediating effect of self-enhancement in the communal domain. Chapter 4 summarizes the studies in this thesis and discusses the implications in relation to future research and management practice.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Economics, Finance and Business, School of
Thesis Date:2023
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:20 Mar 2023 13:36

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