FAC­ULTY FO­CUS Stéphane Côté

Rotman Management Magazine - - CONTENTS - Stéphane Côté, Pro­fes­sor of Or­ga­ni­za­tional Be­hav­iour, Rot­man School of Man­age­ment

be­tween the ‘haves’ THE IN­COME DIS­PAR­ITY and the ‘have nots’ is greater to­day than at any time since the Great De­pres­sion. As a re­sult, chil­dren are spend­ing their for­ma­tive years in vastly dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ments: Some grow up in re­source-rich en­vi­ron­ments; oth­ers, in poverty. Re­search in­di­cates that these dif­fer­ences matter: Parental in­come has im­por­tant con­se­quences for peo­ple’s lives. In­di­vid­u­als with high­er­in­come par­ents ex­hibit bet­ter health and lower mor­tal­ity rates, but were found to be less gen­er­ous than in­di­vid­u­als with lower-in­come par­ents.

These find­ings sug­gest an in­ter­est­ing pos­si­bil­ity that has received lit­tle at­ten­tion in the man­age­ment lit­er­a­ture: Grow­ing up in a rich or poor en­vi­ron­ment may have im­pli­ca­tions for how peo­ple in­ter­act in or­ga­ni­za­tions. In par­tic­u­lar, parental in­come may be im­por­tant for lead­er­ship.

In my re­cent pa­per with Sean Mar­tin of Bos­ton Col­lege and Todd Woodruff of the United States Mil­i­tary Academy at West Point, we de­vel­oped and tested a the­ory about how parental in­come re­lates to the be­hav­iour and ef­fec­tive­ness of lead­ers. In this ar­ti­cle I will sum­ma­rize our re­sults.

Parental In­come and Nar­cis­sism

Be­cause the ba­sic life con­di­tions of higher and low­er­in­come par­ents dif­fer in fun­da­men­tal ways, the set of be­hav­iours that par­ents model and en­cour­age likely de­pends some­what on their in­come. Re­search re­gard­ing the psy­cho­log­i­cal con­se­quences of in­come sug­gests a ‘self-suf­fi­ciency hy­poth­e­sis’, whereby high in­come al­lows in­di­vid­u­als to pro­cure the goods and ser­vices that are re­quired to meet their needs, thereby re­duc­ing depen­dency and in­creas­ing sep­a­ra­tion from oth­ers. Higher-in­come par­ents own larger houses in safer neigh­bour­hoods, have more re­li­able trans­porta­tion to shut­tle chil­dren to var­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties, and can pay for more ac­tiv­i­ties, such as lessons, camps, or tu­tors. These con­di­tions lead higher-in­come par­ents to feel in­de­pen­dent and to per­ceive lit­tle need for as­sis­tance from oth­ers.

By con­trast, lower-in­come par­ents have smaller houses in more dan­ger­ous neigh­bor­hoods and rely more on time-

con­sum­ing and un­re­li­able pub­lic trans­porta­tion. These con­di­tions cause lower-in­come par­ents to per­ceive that they strug­gle to meet their needs on their own and in­crease their de­pen­dence on oth­ers for ac­cess to re­sources (e.g., trans­porta­tion, child­care). This de­pen­dence, in turn, in­creases close­ness to oth­ers among lower-in­come in­di­vid­u­als.

In­de­pen­dence from oth­ers, in turn, might cre­ate ten­u­ous re­la­tion­ships be­tween higher-in­come par­ents and oth­ers — re­la­tion­ships that are char­ac­ter­ized by more self-serv­ing be­hav­iour and less sen­si­tiv­ity to oth­ers’ needs. Stud­ies show that higher-in­come in­di­vid­u­als feel less com­pas­sion and are less help­ful to a stranger in need than lower-in­come in­di­vid­u­als. Higher in­come — but not higher ed­u­ca­tion — has also been as­so­ci­ated with in­creased un­eth­i­cal be­hav­iour per­formed to ben­e­fit the self.

As a re­sult, through mimicry and re­in­force­ment, higher-in­come par­ents could trans­mit more self-serv­ing be­hav­iour to their chil­dren than lower-in­come par­ents. Sup­port­ing this rea­son­ing, in one study, four-year-old chil­dren of higher-in­come par­ents do­nated fewer stick­ers to friends and fewer prize to­kens to sick chil­dren than did chil­dren of poorer par­ents. This line of rea­son­ing sug­gests that lead­ers who had wealthy par­ents might also be more nar­cis­sis­tic — ex­hibit­ing grandiose self-views, im­pul­sive­ness, re­duced em­pa­thy, be­liefs that they de­serve spe­cial treat­ment, strong feel­ings of unique­ness, and a dom­i­nant ori­en­ta­tion to­wards oth­ers.

Once es­tab­lished in youth, nar­cis­sism has been shown to per­sist be­yond child­hood. A 20-year lon­gi­tu­di­nal study found that nar­cis­sism iden­ti­fied in preschool-aged chil­dren tended to re­main through adolescence and early adult­hood. This sug­gests that nar­cis­sis­tic ten­den­cies learned early in life will per­sist and in­flu­ence how peo­ple act as adults. Thus, our ini­tial hy­poth­e­sis was that parental in­come is pos­i­tively re­lated to fu­ture nar­cis­sism.

We also posited that higher lev­els of nar­cis­sism are as­so­ci­ated with less en­gage­ment in three broad facets of lead­er­ship be­hav­iour:

1. Re­la­tional-ori­ented be­hav­iour;

2. Task-ori­ented be­hav­iour; and

3. Change-ori­ented be­hav­iour.

I will now de­scribe how nar­cis­sism af­fects each as­pect of lead­er­ship be­hav­iour.

RE­LA­TIONAL-ORI­ENTED BE­HAV­IOURS. Re­la­tional-ori­ented be­hav­iours are ac­tions in which lead­ers show con­cern for fol­low­ers, look out for their wel­fare, build their re­spect, and en­cour­age fol­low­ers to fo­cus on the wel­fare of the group. In en­dur­ing re­la­tion­ships, grandios­ity — a defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic of nar­cis­sism — might cause nar­cis­sists to acts in ways that are less in­ter­per­son­ally sen­si­tive than non-nar­cis­sists, be­cause, when in­di­vid­u­als be­lieve that they are more im­por­tant and wor­thy than oth­ers, they might over-claim credit and deny oth­ers the ap­pre­ci­a­tion or recog­ni­tion they de­serve. Nar­cis­sists also tend to dero­gate oth­ers in or­der to rate their own traits more fa­vor­ably. Im­pul­siv­ity — an­other defin­ing facet of nar­cis­sism — causes nar­cis­sists to be ar­ro­gant and ag­gres­sive, and to be­lit­tle oth­ers and ex­ploit their weak­nesses.

In past stud­ies, nar­cis­sists have ex­hib­ited low lev­els of em­pa­thy and low in­ter­est in es­tab­lish­ing and main­tain­ing warm in­ter­per­sonal re­la­tion­ships. These ten­den­cies should lead nar­cis­sis­tic lead­ers to show lit­tle con­cern for their fol­low­ers. Thus, we be­lieved nar­cis­sism could neg­a­tively re­late to re­la­tional-ori­ented lead­er­ship be­hav­iour.

TASK-ORI­ENTED BE­HAV­IOURS. Task ori­ented be­hav­iours re­flect the ex­tent to which a leader de­fines and or­ga­nizes the work and roles of team mem­bers, mod­els and asks that oth­ers fol­low stan­dard rules and reg­u­la­tions, es­tab­lishes wellde­fined pat­terns and chan­nels of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and re­wards those who meet ex­pec­ta­tions. The grandios­ity and im­pul­siv­ity that are hall­marks of nar­cis­sism are likely to sti­fle en­gage­ment in task-ori­ented lead­er­ship be­hav­iours in en­dur­ing re­la­tion­ships be­tween lead­ers and fol­low­ers.

More­over, nar­cis­sists’ grandiose sense of self, com­bined with their ten­dency to dero­gate oth­ers, should make it less likely that these lead­ers del­e­gate tasks to oth­ers, po­ten­tially be­liev­ing that they, and only they, are ca­pa­ble of ac­com­plish­ing tasks. These ar­gu­ments sug­gest that, in en­dur­ing re­la­tion­ships where nar­cis­sists en­gage in more neg­a­tive be­hav­iour, they will be less con­sci­en­tious in struc­tur­ing tasks, more likely to de­vi­ate from plans, and more fo­cused on short-term mo­tives for recog­ni­tion than long-term sys­tems, re­sult­ing in less task-ori­ented lead­er­ship be­hav­iour.

CHANGE-ORI­ENTED BE­HAV­IOURS. Change-ori­ented lead­er­ship be­hav­iours are those that de­velop and com­mu­ni­cate a com­pelling vi­sion and en­cour­age in­no­va­tive think­ing and the shar­ing of dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives. On the one hand, nar­cis­sis­tic lead­ers might take more risks, help­ing them de­velop cre­ative ideas that make their vi­sion com­pelling; on the other, their fo­cus on their own pri­or­i­ties may cause them to ar­tic­u­late vi­sions that omit the goals of their or­ga­ni­za­tion and, thus, fail to at­tract fol­low­ers’ com­mit­ment.

Past find­ings sug­gest that nar­cis­sis­tic lead­ers en­cour­age less in­no­va­tive think­ing and shar­ing of per­spec­tives among group mem­bers, the other cen­tral as­pects of change-ori­ented lead­er­ship be­hav­iour. Among the take­aways, nar­cis­sists per­ceive and seek to show that they are smarter and more ca­pa­ble than oth­ers; self-ag­gran­diz­ing leader be­hav­iours may evoke obe­di­ence in some, but can also sti­fle fol­low­ers’ self-ini­tia­tive and re­duce their de­sire to as­so­ciate with the leader; and nar­cis­sists’ com­bi­na­tion of felt su­pe­ri­or­ity and im­pul­siv­ity can make them ag­gres­sive com­mu­ni­ca­tors.

Thus, we hy­poth­e­sized that nar­cis­sism is neg­a­tively re­lated to re­la­tional-, task- and change-ori­ented be­hav­iours.

We also pro­posed that lead­ers who en­gage in more re­la­tional-, task- and change-ori­ented be­hav­iours will role model and cre­ate con­di­tions that fos­ter more or­ga­ni­za­tional-cit­i­zen­ship be­hav­iour and less coun­ter­pro­duc­tive be­hav­iour. ‘Cit­i­zen­ship be­hav­iours’ are ac­tions con­cerned with help­ing oth­ers, go­ing above and be­yond, and tak­ing more re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

THE STUDY: We re­cruited lead­ers and fol­low­ers who were ac­tive duty sol­diers in the U.S. Army, con­tact­ing two alumni classes of the United States Mil­i­tary Academy at West Point (USMA). At the time of data col­lec­tion, these sol­diers were serv­ing in one of two lead­er­ship roles: Lieu­tenants (‘Class A’) and captains (‘Class B’). We sent an on­line sur­vey to all mem­bers of Classes A and B, ask­ing them to com­plete a sur­vey about them­selves, and to nom­i­nate up to five fol­low­ers to com­plete a sur­vey about their lead­er­ship.

Parental in­come was ob­tained from USMA archival data, while nar­cis­sism was as­sessed us­ing a nine-item scale. Us­ing a scale of ‘1’ (strongly dis­agree) to ‘5’ (strongly agree), par­tic­i­pants rated their level of agree­ment with state­ments in­clud­ing, ‘I know that I am spe­cial be­cause every­one keeps telling me so’ and ‘Many group ac­tiv­i­ties tend to be dull with­out me’.

Fol­low­ers rated lead­ers’ en­gage­ment in re­la­tional- and task-ori­ented lead­er­ship be­hav­iours by indi­cat­ing their level of agree­ment with state­ments con­cern­ing their lead­ers’ be­hav­iours us­ing a ‘1’ (strongly dis­agree) to ‘7’ (strongly agree) scale. Ex­am­ple items re­flect­ing re­la­tional-ori­ented be­hav­iour in­cluded ‘Is friendly and ap­proach­able’ and ‘Does the lit­tle things to make it pleas­ant to be a mem­ber of the group’. Ex­am­ple items re­flect­ing task-ori­ented be­hav­iours in­cluded,

Find­ings sug­gest that higher-in­come par­ents model and re­in­force be­hav­iours pri­or­i­tiz­ing the­self over oth­ers.

‘Lets group mem­bers know what is ex­pected of them’ and ‘En­cour­ages the use of uni­form pro­ce­dures’. Change-ori­ented be­hav­iours were as­sessed us­ing four items in­clud­ing ‘En­ables oth­ers to think about old prob­lems in new ways’ and ‘Pro­vides ap­peal­ing images about what we can do’ us­ing a ‘1’ (strongly dis­agree) to ‘5’ (strongly agree).

Fol­low­ers then in­di­cated their agree­ment with state­ments assess­ing their lead­ers’ ef­fec­tive­ness com­pared to other lead­ers with whom they had had ex­pe­ri­ence. Rat­ings em­ployed a 7-point scale, with items in­clud­ing, ‘Com­pared to oth­ers, this leader can do most tasks very well’ and ‘Even when things are tough, my leader can per­form quite well.’

Fol­low­ers also rated the ex­tent to which they per­ceived peo­ple in their group en­gag­ing var­i­ous cit­i­zen­ship be­hav­iours. Ex­am­ple state­ments in­cluded, ‘Peo­ple in my group vol­un­teer for things that are not re­quired’ and ‘Peo­ple in my group help oth­ers who have heavy work­loads’. Rat­ings were done us­ing a 5-point scale.

Coun­ter­pro­duc­tive be­hav­iours were then as­sessed us­ing six items. Us­ing a ‘1’ (never) to ‘5’ (all of the time) scale, par­tic­i­pants rated the fre­quency with which they wit­nessed group mem­bers en­gage in each be­hav­iour. Ex­am­ple state­ments in­cluded ‘Put lit­tle ef­fort into their work’ and ‘Ne­glected to fol­low a leader’s in­struc­tions’.

RE­SULTS: The in­come of an in­di­vid­ual’s par­ents was pos­i­tively as­so­ci­ated with later nar­cis­sism. Fur­ther, through higher lev­els of nar­cis­sism, parental in­come was in­di­rectly as­so­ci­ated with less en­gage­ment in re­la­tional-, task and change-ori­ented be­hav­iours that are tra­di­tion­ally viewed as cen­tral to strong lead­er­ship.

This sug­gests that there is a psy­cho­log­i­cal ‘residue’ from grow­ing up wealth­ier or poorer that re­lates to fu­ture lead­er­ship ef­fec­tive­ness. In ad­di­tion, the find­ings ad­vance the idea that the macro so­cial trend of in­creas­ing in­come dis­par­ity — through the re­la­tion­ship be­tween in­come and nar­cis­sism — has im­pli­ca­tions for our un­der­stand­ing of man­age­ment schol­ar­ship and prac­tice.

Our find­ings doc­u­ment path­ways through which high parental in­come may neg­a­tively in­flu­ence lead­ers’ ef­fec­tive­ness. Or­ga­ni­za­tions might ben­e­fit from tak­ing ac­tive steps to cur­tail the en­ti­tle­ment and grandios­ity that at least some lead­ers with wealthy back­grounds are likely to ex­hibit.

One pos­si­bil­ity con­sists of elic­it­ing com­pas­sion in lead­ers. In past re­search, an ex­per­i­men­tal ma­nip­u­la­tion of com­pas­sion (a clip show­ing chil­dren in need) in­creased the help­ful be­hav­iour of par­tic­i­pants with higher parental in­come to a level that was com­pa­ra­ble to that of par­tic­i­pants with lower parental in­come. Sim­i­lar in­ter­ven­tions could be de­signed to re­duce the en­ti­tle­ment and grandios­ity, and, in turn, im­prove the ef­fec­tive­ness of lead­ers with higher parental in­come. Al­ter­na­tively, or­ga­ni­za­tions could po­ten­tially coun­ter­act nar­cis­sism by pri­or­i­tiz­ing and valu­ing hu­mil­ity.

In clos­ing

Our find­ings open the door to fu­ture ex­plo­rations of how so­ci­etal trends such as in­come dis­par­ity might in­flu­ence leader–fol­lower re­la­tion­ships and other or­ga­ni­za­tional dy­nam­ics. They also sug­gest that macro trends such as in­creas­ing in­come dis­par­ity can in­flu­ence or­ga­ni­za­tional life by al­ter­ing the traits and be­hav­iours of those en­ter­ing the work­place. Af­ter all, as eco­nomic in­equal­ity rises, we may ex­pect to see an in­creas­ing num­ber of lead­ers who had wealthy

Or­ga­ni­za­tions can coun­ter­act nar­cis­sism by pri­or­i­tiz­ing and valu­ing hu­mil­ity.

par­ents, are more nar­cis­sis­tic, and do not rely on clas­sic lead­er­ship be­hav­iours to lead.

We also may come to see less-nar­cis­sis­tic lead­ers from lower-in­come back­grounds in a dif­fer­ent light, rec­og­niz­ing they might en­gage in these be­hav­iours to a greater ex­tent, and that their style, if given the op­por­tu­nity, may be par­tic­u­larly well suited to some con­texts.

Given the in­creas­ing gap be­tween the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, un­der­stand­ing the re­la­tional and lead­er­ship ten­den­cies of peo­ple from each in­come group is an im­por­tant ques­tion for the fu­ture of or­ga­ni­za­tional — not to men­tion so­ci­etal — schol­ar­ship.

Stéphane Côté is a Pro­fes­sor of Or­ga­ni­za­tional Be­hav­iour & HR Man­age­ment and Di­rec­tor of the PHD Pro­gram at the Rot­man School of Man­age­ment. This ar­ti­cle sum­ma­rizes his pa­per, “Echoes of our Up­bring­ing: How Grow­ing Up Wealthy or Poor Re­lates to Nar­cis­sism, Leader Be­hav­iour, and Leader Ef­fec­tive­ness”, writ­ten with Sean Mar­tin (As­sis­tant Pro­fes­sor of Man­age­ment and Or­ga­ni­za­tions at Bos­ton Col­lege’s Car­roll School of Man­age­ment) and Todd Woodruff (Academy Pro­fes­sor and Di­rec­tor, Lead­er­ship and Man­age­ment Stud­ies at the United States Mil­i­tary Academy at West Point). The pa­per was pub­lished in the Academy of Man­age­ment Jour­nal and can be down­loaded on­line.

Rot­man fac­ulty re­search is ranked #3 in the world by the Fi­nan­cial Times.

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