A New Job for K-8 Teachers – Spot the Narcissist

Thanks to Adam Grant for sharing this research study.

Researchers at the University of Amsterdam and the University of Texas conducted, to their knowledge, the first study of the relationship between narcissism levels and various aspects of leadership in children.

They first assessed narcissism levels using the Childhood Narcissism Scale and assessed leadership emergence in classrooms using peer nominations. Children then performed a group task in which one child was randomly assigned as leader. and the researchers assessed perceived and actual leadership functioning.

The researchers found that children with relatively high narcissism levels tend to emerge as leaders, even though they may not excel as leaders.

And before you think that what is needed is trying to change someone from being a narcissist, I found it interesting that what the researchers suggest is to seek interventions to cultivate effective leadership from a young age, perhaps especially among children who score higher on narcissism, given that these children often emerge as leaders.

This seems to suggest that being a narcissist is a personality trait that may be difficult to change. So instead of trying to do so, take the positive aspects of such a personality, such as their tendency to emerge as leaders, and work with them on how to become an effective one.

This also suggests that leadership is something that can be taught, starting at a young age.

If that is the case, then I think it would be better to look for young children who exhibit signs of empathy, kindness, and compassion and train them to be effective leaders.

So now it seems like K-8 teachers, in addition to all their current responsibilities, have to be on the lookout for who might be a good leader, and then start training them to be one.

An overwhelming task for sure.

But their hard work may pay dividends 50 years later when one of those kids becomes President…

30 thoughts on “A New Job for K-8 Teachers – Spot the Narcissist

  1. Great, now they’re going to find the schoolyard bullies and put them in charge of the kids they’ve been victimizing.

    I’ve never been a fan of personality tests. They’re 90% BS and 10% hokum, in my view. I’m for schools just sticking with the ABC’s of learning. You know, Accounting, Business, and Checking Stats.

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    1. I agree that there is a lot of subjectivity in those personality tests. I only like them when the results turn out the way I want them to. And that sounds like the kind of grade school I wish I went to!

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  2. Interesting study. I didn’t teach too many narcissistic children. I don’t think that quality is that common in younger children. You can spot the leaders early though. They like to share in front of their classmates as much as possible.

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    1. I was thinking the same thing, Pete. I think the study included ages 7-14, so maybe the older end of that range? My wife, who teaches pre-k, has said the same thing about some kids seeming to be natural leaders…

      I wonder if the study should look at things the other way. Maybe leadership is a natural trait, and then once those leaders start taking charge, that leads to narcissism…

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  3. I think that leadership skills can be taught to people who have natural leadership abilities. Given all the leadership training and courses I see at work, I think I can say with reasonable assurance that people who aren’t natural leadership skills are highly unlikely to become people who others follow regardless of the training given.

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  4. I would agree with Roberta. I think anyone can be taught the skill set required of a good leader, but the desire to take on the responsibilities that come with being a leader is often something you are either born to or not. Oddly enough, the greatest lesson for becoming a good leader is to learn to follow well. Great post, Jim! Always making me look at things differently.

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    1. Great points, Brad. But I wonder if it is a job you can grow into, even if at first you were reluctant to be a leader…

      and I love your idea of the importance of being a good follower…

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  5. I think the real challenge is to spot the narcissists early enough to direct them down a different path from becoming leaders, without having the necessary skills. One President fitting that model is already one too many…

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  6. From my experience, I have found that people having narcissistic personality disorders have it throughout life (with varying degrees of severity) And I completely agree that leadership training for all, particularly empathic, children would benefit us all.

    With that said, the thought of a little child narcissist is both terrifying and amusing. (Thinking of the cartoon “Boss Baby”)🌺

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    1. I would agree that probably once a narcissist, always a narcissist.

      And I think leadership training for all people would be quite useful.

      I’m not sure I’ve heard of Boss Baby, but the premise sounds funny!

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  7. I’m not sure it is a good idea to identify children for leadership training that is not offered to all, if that is the point of the study. The characteristics you mention, empathy, compassion along with responsibility, ethics and morality are equally important if not more so to the type of leadership society needs. There are plenty of people capable of amassing followers who aren’t good leaders. A narcissistic personality may make a leader but seems to be the opposite of the traits of a good leader. A very interesting study and conclusions.

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    1. thanks for sharing your thoughts, John. Good point that the leadership training should be offered to all; some may find it more enjoyable than others and hence decide to pursue being a leader. I agree that narcissism is not a trait I want in a leader…


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