When Employees’ Self-Love Becomes Enmity for Employer

Aon Hewitt Think Tank’s mission is to encourage and support world-class, India-specific research in the areas of HR and leadership with an objective to:

1. Attract the best talent to pursue India-specific research on HR and leadership

2. Support high quality research through:

  • Direct and indirect financial assistance
  • Better access to data from the industry
  • Ongoing guidance and mentoring from senior academicians and industry professionals

3. Act as a center for discussion and dissemination of research on HR and leadership in India
Dr. Promila Agarwal’s Research Topic is Talent Derailment: Exploring the derailment factors, its impact, and the way forward.

The growing interest in talent derailment is not only due to conceptual/theoretical consideration reasons but also developed followed in the wake of public scandals that were due to talent derailment during this century (Spain et al., 2014). One out of two managers fail in their managerial role (Gentry and Chappelow, 2009), with the rate of executive derailment reaching as high as 75% (Hogan and Kaiser, 2005). It is estimated that failures by top executives cost the US economy as much as USD 13.8 billion per year (Stoddard and Wyckoff, 2008). An examination of narcissist personality as an antecedent of talent derailment calls for an investigation because personality defects are a key issue in understanding managers’ derailment (Hogan and Kaiser, 2005). Derailment includes an employee plateauing prematurely in his or her career or being demoted or fired (McCall and Lombardo, 1983).

Talent derailment

The author argues that narcissism is positively associated with talent derailment and the relationship between narcissism and talent derailment is moderated by High Performance Work Systems (HPWSs). HPWSs are defined “as an integrated system of HR practices that are internally consistent (alignment among HR practices) and externally consistent (alignment with organizational strategy)” (Evans and Davis, 2005, p. 759). HPWSs, therefore, comprise a bundle of integrated HR practices. HPWSs are favorable for the organization due to its ability, skills, and motivation-enhancing orientation (Wallace et al., 2013). Despite a moderate amount of work in the area of talent derailment, researchers suggest that additional research is needed to understand the role of narcissism in talent derailment (Spain et al., 2014). Research reveals that employees who derail show signs of problems with interpersonal relationships, difficulty leading a team, difficulty changing or adapting, failure to meet business objectives, or too narrow a functional orientation (see Lombardo, McCauley, McDonald-Mann, and Leslie, 1999). Derailing managers display self-defeating behaviors, weaknesses that cannot be offset by strengths in other areas (McCartney and Campbell 2006). Derailing managers who fail to meet critical business objectives and deliver results, particularly in highly dynamic organizational environments, are likely to experience setbacks in their career and ultimately derail. Research reveals that derailment could be due to several factors including new roles and responsibilities (Lombardo and Eichinger, 2005), interpersonal relationship issues with co-workers (Kovach, 1986), among others.

Narcissism and high performance work systems

The narcissistic personality is characterized by grandiosity, a sense of entitlement, and a lack of empathy (Smith and Lilienfeld, 2013). An inflated view of self, fantasies of control, success, and admiration, and a desire to have this self-love reinforced by others are hallmarks of narcissist personality. Personality influences the contract elements that employees perceive as the most relevant and the contract type they maintain with an organization over the long-term (Raja et al., 2004). Narcissists tend to perceive themselves as victims, read negative intent during interpersonal interactions (Wu and Lebreton, 2011) and thus, have a heightened sensitivity to negative interactions. Therefore, it is likely that narcissistic employees will derail. Narcissists also engage in a deviant behavior because of their tendency towards self-enhancement. Narcissistic relationships are based on levels of empathy and emotional intimacy. Therefore, the narcissist will likely to fail at building a meaningful inter-personal relationship. Narcissism is also likely to affect their ability to develop and lead teams. Narcissist strategies for maintaining inflated self-views and a sense of grandiosity in the form of seeking out opportunities for attention and admiration, bragging, stealing credit from others (Campbell et al., 2011) restricts the individual’s adaptability. Narcissists reported very high self-esteem when they succeeded in inflating their self-views. This is associated with the optimism bias phenomenon, i.e., they start strongly believing that positive events are more likely to happen (Flyvbjerg et al., 2009). This is likely to lead to failure to meet business objectives. Camphell et al. (2011) argued that narcissistic leaders may succeed in the short-term, but over time, they “destroy the systems that they and others depend on to survive and thrive” (p. 280).

The author proposes that organizations can control the situations that are likely to activate behavior causing talent derailment. The situation provides cues for the expression of behavior (Tett and Burnett, 2003). Situations triggering the latent potential of the personality occur because of social, and task demands that stems from constituents, such as peers, subordinates, clients, and supervisors (Tett and Burnett, 2003). Supervisors have the power and authority to influence employees in desirable and undesirable ways (Brown, Trevino, and Harrison, 2005). Therefore, we argue that narcissismis influenced by the job demands posed by the organization through HPWSs. HPWSs indicate what behaviors are acceptable, expected, and therefore required for survival and progression. HPWS is based upon autonomy and accountability. Accountability mechanisms can range from formal, e.g., performance evaluation systems, rewards systems, personnel manuals, financial reporting procedures and laws and regulations, to informal (e.g., feeling of loyalty to an organization) (Kaiser and Hogan, 2011). Employees in a HPWSs environment are required to provide justification for their decisions and behavior and thus control selfinterest behavior. In such an environment, the narcissist will be more careful about their unrestraint and selfcentered behavior. In summary, the author argues that narcissist behavior leads to talent derailment. The effect of narcissist behavior on organizations will reduce if employees work in HPWSs environment.

Brown, M. E., Treviño, L. K., and Harrison, D. A. (2005). Ethical leadership: A social learning perspective for construct development and testing. Organizational behavior and human decision processes, 97(2), 117-134.

Campbell, W. K., Hoffman, B. J., Campbell, S. M., and Marchisio, G. (2011). Narcissism in organizational contexts. Human Resource Management Review, 21(4), 268-284.

Flyvbjerg, B., Garbuio, M., Lovallo, D. (2009). Delusion and deception in large infrastructure projects: two models for explaining and preventing executive disaster. California Management Review, 51(2), 170–193.

Evans, W. R., and Davis, W. D. (2005). High performance work systems and organizational performance: The mediating role of internal social structure. Journal of Management, 31,758–775.

Gentry, W. A., and Chappelow, C. T. (2009). Managerial derailment: Weaknesses that can be fixed. In R. B. Kaiser (Ed.), The perils of accentuating the positives (Vol.), pp. 97–113. Tulsa, OK: Hogan Press.

Hogan, R., and Kaiser, R.B. (2005). What we know about leadership. Journal of General Psychology, 9(2), 169–180.

Kaiser, R. B., and Hogan, J. (2011). Personality, leader behavior, and overdoing it. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 63(4), 219-242.

Kovach, B.E. (1986). The derailment of fast-track managers. Organizational Dynamics, 15(2), 41–48.

Lombardo, M. M., and Eichinger, R. W. (2005). The leadership machine. USA: Lominger.

Lombardo, M. M., McCauley, C. D., McDonald-Mann, D., and Leslie, J. B. (1999). BENCHMARKS® developmental reference points. Greensboro, NC: Center for Creative Leadership.

McCall, M. W., Jr., and Lombardo, M. M. (1983). Off the track: Why and how successful executives get derailed. Technical Report No. 21.Greensboro, NC: Center for Creative Leadership.

McCartney, W. W., and Campbell, C. R. (2006). Leadership, management, and derailment: A model of individual success and failure. Leadership and Organization Development Journal, 27(3), 190-202.

Raja, U., Johns, G., and Ntalianis, F. (2004). The impact of personality on psychological contracts. Academy of Management Journal, 47(3), 350-367.

Smith, S. F., and Lilienfeld, S. O. (2013). Psychopathy in the workplace: The knowns and unknowns. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 18(2), 204-218.

Spain, S.M., Harms, P., and Lebreton, J.M. (2014). The dark side of personality at work. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 35(1), 41–60.

Stoddard, N., and Wyckoff, C. (2008). The costs of ceo failure. Chief Executive, 237, 66-70.

Tett, R. P., and Burnett, D. D. (2003). A personality trait-based interactionist model of job performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88(3), 500-517.

Wallace, J. C., Butts, M. M., Johnson, P. D., Stevens, F. G., and Smith, M. B. (2013). Amultilevel model of employee innovation: Understanding the effects of regulatory focus, thriving, and employee involvement climate. Journal of Management, 41 (5), 1501-1529.

Wu, J., and Lebreton, J. M. (2011). Reconsidering the dispositional basis of counterproductive work behavior: The role of aberrant personality. Personnel Psychology, 64(3), 593-626

Dr. Promila Agarwal’s work on - ‘Dark side of Personality and Talent Derailment’ was accepted by the Human Resource Division of the Academy of Management (AOM) for presentation at the 77th annual meeting held in Atlanta, Georgia. It has also been designated as one of the best papers by the division program chairs. It is a significant feat, considering that only the top 10% of the papers accepted in this conference are selected for this honor. The Academy of Management Annual Meeting is the premier conference for more than 10,000 students, academicians, scholars and professionals in the scholarly management and organization space.

Dr. Promila Agarwal
Assistant Professor,
IIM Ahmedabad

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