How to Manage the Narcissist in 360-Degree Feedback?

November 16, 2016 by Sandra Mashihi

 “Everything I do, I feel is genius. Whether it is or it isn’t.”

-Rufus Wainwright

It has been estimated that 65 to 75 percent of the employees in any given organization report that the worst aspect of their job is their immediate boss. In fact, estimates of the base rate for managerial incompetence in corporate life range from 30 to 75 percent, with the average level of poor leadership hovering at about 50 percent (Hogan, R. & Kaiser, R., 2005). Many of these leaders tend to have inflated views of their skills and abilities, and this appears fairly common in 360-degree feedback research (Nowack, 1992).

Over-estimation is the type of distortion that occurs when talent and leaders rate themselves more highly on specific assessments of skills and abilities than how others experience them. The bigger the distortion and gap between self and other ratings, the greater the likelihood these individuals will find feedback challenging to accept and use for development purposes. As a result, over-estimators are prone to exhibit defensive behavior in feedback meetings and look for ways to dismiss findings or find fault with the 360-degree feedback instrument, the raters who provided feedback, or the process itself.

If you were to take a look at the common psychological definitions for the Narcissistic Personality Disorder, you might see many of these manifested in talent and leaders who highly over-estimate their skills and abilities, including:

  1. Having a grandiose sense of self-importance
  2. Being preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, etc.
  3. Believing they are unique and can only be understood by other high-status people (or institutions)
  4. Infrequently acknowledging mistakes or weaknesses
  5. Requiring excessive admiration, praise, and recognition
  6. Having a sense of entitlement
  7. Possibly being interpersonally manipulative to achieve their own goals
  8. Lacking empathy and being unwilling or unable to demonstrate true caring about the feelings of others
  9. Demonstrating arrogance

Some brand new research suggests that  unhealthy narcissists in men, might be at risk to get sick due to chronic elevation of stress hormones http://www.sampler.isr.umich.edu/2012/research/expensive-egos-narcissism-has-a-higher-health-cost-for-men/.

Our own unpublished research suggests that talent and leaders who have this perception of themselves when looking in the mirror might not only be high risk to derail in their careers but also might be at risk for getting sick. Some limited evidence suggests that over-estimators might also utilize a repressive coping style, which has been shown to be associated with both immune suppression and cardiovascular activation.

Goffin & Anderson in 2007 found, in their analysis of over-estimators and under-estimators in 204 managers found that peers had a significant and negative correlation with leaders that rated high on a personality measure of narcissism.  Because peers are unique at predicting future leadership potential, this finding suggests that behaviors of entitlement, grandiosity and defensiveness are not attractive to future followership.  In their same study, Goffin and Anderson found specifically that over-estimators were also characterized as being high in achievement orientation, self-esteem, social desirability and low in anxiety.

In general, individuals with this cognitive distortion are prone to be challenging, defensive and resistant to accepting the feedback from others.The over-estimators tend to be challenging in feedback meetings and will often be at risk to potentially derail and ignore the feedback they receive, despite the fact that this distortion would appear to be useful for these individuals to pay attention to.

Coach’s Critique:

In our coaching practice, some of the more common types of clients we are referred to are the so called “nacissistic” leaders, or what we commonly call the “Clueless” leaders. These individuals have a severe case of the “better-than-average” effect. That is, they see perceive themselves as performing much better than what everyone else sees of them.

Research has demonstrated a large number of individuals within organizations that fall under such typologies. A global survey of executives and leaders by Korn Ferry International involving respondents from over 70 countries revealed that only 27 % of respondents thought their boss was doing the job better than they could! Further research in a national survey of 1,854 leaders, 92% rated themselves as excellent, and only 67% of direct reports agreed with them and at least 10 % rated their bosses as performing poorly (Ehrlinger, 2008).

Unlike under-estimators (which I discussed in last week’s blog), these individuals hone in on their strengths rather than focusing on the perception gap. These individuals are resistant and defensive about the feedback of others, and tend to come up with justifications and excuses as to why they were rated lower than their own ratings. It’s as if the perceptions of others aren’t valid!

So, there is something to be said about the challenge that is involved with coaching such individuals. As coaches, we try to facilitate a discussion that helps them get motivated and find the creese to get them to see themselves from the perspectives of others and how it is impacting them. In some cases, we help them through that, however, some people are so stuck in their ways, that they are unlikely to utilize the feedback.

What has been your experience with working with extreme over-estimators?

ARE YOU A NARCISSIST? You can test it out by taking this test: http://psychcentral.com/quizzes/narcissistic.htm

Dr. Sandra Mashihi is a senior consultant with Envisia Learning, Inc. She has extensive experience in sales training, behavioral assessments and executive coaching. Prior to working at Envisia Learning, Inc., She was an internal Organizational Development Consultant at Marcus & Millichap where she was responsible for initiatives within training & development and recruiting.. Sandra received her Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology from University of California, Los Angeles and received her Master of Science and Doctorate in Organizational Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology.

Posted in 360 Degree Feedback

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