Do guys like Bernie Madoff do what they do because of greed ... or ego?    A Florida State professor says it's the latter.    It makes some sense because it takes a certain drive to become CEO of a large company and that takes a certain self-confidence.  

But is it more than just determination and grit and confidence?   Narcissism is the claim Wayne Hochwarter, the Jim Moran Professor of Management in the Florida State University College of Business, is trying to make.   I'm betting that either me or Hochwater does not understand what the term narcissism really means - and it isn't me.

Yes, I understand that 'narcissism' has a colloquial meaning, but using clinical terms colloquially does a disservice to health and science so we should put a halt to it.  Especially when they are used by teaching professors of management classes.

Hochwarter says he wanted to examine the 'narcissistic' tendencies of bosses in American organizations so he asked more than 1,200 employees to provide opinions regarding the narcissistic tendencies of their immediate supervisor.

As you can imagine, there isn't a lot of science rigor so feel free to giggle along at the answers but it's Friday, so you can tweak the boss a little.   Just don't let him see you reading this.

Their responses:

  • 31 percent reported that their boss is prone to exaggerate his or her accomplishments to look good in front of others;

  • 27 percent reported that their boss brags to others to get praise;

  • 25 percent reported that their boss had an inflated view of himself or herself;

  • 24 percent reported that their boss was self-centered; and

  • 20 percent reported that their boss will do a favor only if guaranteed one in return.

Well, a lot of these are no surprise.    Take that last one.   Do 80% of all people do a favor someone even if there is no guarantee of a return?   Maybe, any number would be a guess - but that's what this says.    That sounds like a huge number to me, so if 80% of bosses would do that and I would have guessed 50%, that's not narcissism, that's downright generous.

Are 3/4ths of people you know not self-centered?    Probably, though depending on who you know that may be lower.   That's the problem with this.    There's nothing in here even remotely indicative of narcissism.   Narcissism is not hubris, narcissism is not overconfident.  

Heck, there is a steamroller of people who all want free health care in 2009.  Are they narcissistic for wanting something others will have to pay for?  No, narcissism is not entitlement either.   

"Having a narcissistic boss creates a toxic environment for virtually everyone who must come in contact with this individual," Hochwarter said.

Sure, but it's something of a straw man.   Having a narcissistic neighbor, spouse or parent is also pretty toxic.   That's why they invented the term 'narcissist'.  It isn't 'selfish', it's a lot more than that.    And nothing in these numbers pointed toward narcissism.

The problem is that he is letting employees decide if their boss is narcissistic.    The conclusions are obvious; anyone working for a narcissist is unhappy - but aren't most employees unhappy? - and feels more stress.

"Most organizations simply do not consider the adverse effects of narcissistic bosses on worker productivity and stress," Hochwarter said. "In fact, many companies encourage it since narcissists are often seen as outgoing and confident -- traits considered necessary for success in any managerial role. However, there is a fine line between self-confidence on the one hand and selfishness that negatively affects others on the other. Unfortunately, the needed adjustments simply do not take place in most organizations, for any number of reasons."

He seems to continually mean 'selfishness' rather than narcissism.   A guy who teaches MBAs wouldn't be very happy if people used 'retained earnings' colloquially and incorrectly so I assume he will understand why there will be objections to his making a sweeping psychological diagnosis that seems designed solely to have populist appeal.

It's not all bad.   Heck, he may want to write here some day so I can't be too hard on him.   Other studies he has done say things like employers can reduce hurricane-related stress and there may be something to that, namely by not making people come into work during a hurricane.

P.S.   Someone isn't a narcissist just because they have a lot of friends on Facebook either.