Why do dark personality traits impact leadership performance?

About this research

The impact of personality characteristics in the workplace is of great interest for leaders and followers. Until recently, research in this area has focused on ‘bright’ personality traits and how these influence organizational behavior. Recent incidents, such as the financial crises have, however, led to a change in focus and greater interest in the darker side of personality and its influence on leadership behavior.

In this research we explored the impact of the dark personality traits of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and sub-clinical psychopathy on leadership performance. Additionally, we explored why a leader’s dark traits negatively impact leadership behavior by focusing on the quality of the relationship between leader and follower, and whether similarity or difference in their ‘dark’ personality traits influences this.   

We explored the relationships, as presented in Figure 1 below.

Our specific aims were to:

1.       Explore the relationship between dark personality characteristics and leadership performance

2.       Explore the impact of dark personality characteristics on the leader-follower relationship

3.       Explore how the quality of the leader-follower relationship impacts leadership performance

4.       Explore whether leaders and followers with similar personality characteristics form better relationships, which then support more effective leadership performance

Who took part?

Our study comprised a sample of 349 participants (51% female) who held leadership positions in middle management (83% were department managers). By completing an online survey, which included psychometrically validated scales, participants reported on their own dark personality traits and those of their line manager, the quality of their relationship with their direct leader, and rated their leader’s leadership performance. 

What did we find?
There were four main findings:

1.       Dark traits have a negative impact on leadership performance

2.       Dark traits have a negative impact on the quality of the leader-follower relationship

3.       The quality of the leader-follower relationship mediates the impact of a leader’s dark traits on leadership performance

4.       A personality match helps leaders and followers develop stronger quality relationships

We go into more detail about these findings, and what they mean for leaders, in the research report. 

To download a copy of the report, click here

Research team

The research was conducted by Dr. Nadine Page and Stefan Wills from Ashridge Executive Education at Hult International Business School, and Dr. Sabine Bergner from Graz University, Austria. 


How can I find out more?

Please email nadine.page@ashridge.hult.edu for more information or if you would like to work with us on future research projects.