Dark Leadership 1
The role of leaders’ Dark Triad personality traits
Marco R. Furtner1,2, Thomas Maran1,3, & John F. Rauthmann4,5
1Leopold-Franzens University of Innsbruck, Austria
2University of Liechtenstein, Liechtenstein
3Alps Adria University of Klagenfurt, Austria
4Humboldt-University of Berlin, Germany
5Wake Forest University, USA
To appear in:
Clark, M. G., & Gruber, C. W. (Eds.) (2017). Leader Development Deconstructed. Springer.
This version is the accepted form and has not undergone copy-editing yet.
Dark Leadership 2
For a long time, leadership research has focused too much on idealized, romantic, and “good”
forms of leadership (e.g., transformational, empowering, authentic, and ethical leadership),
but neglected the antagonistic part: the dark side of leadership. Current personality and
leadership literature suggests that, due to their high need for power and social dominance
orientation, a variety of Dark Triad personalities (narcissists, Machiavellians, and
psychopaths) can be found in leadership positions. Accordingly, dark leadership reflects a part
of leadership reality. Nevertheless, the dark side of leadership is still relatively understudied.
This chapter combines Dark Triad personality with dark leadership research to describe
narcissistic, Machiavellian, and psychopathic leadership. Additionally, the role of the Dark
Triad in leader development is described. Dark leaders may be selfish, impulsive,
exploitative, and toxic but still be as effective or successful as prosocial, self-controlled, and
“good” leaders. The focus on leaders' dark traits and leadership could improve our
understanding of the complex, dynamic, and challenging field of leadership research. Thus,
knowledge on the strengths and weaknesses of the Dark Triad can be utilized in leader
Dark Leadership 3
For a long time leadership research has primarily focused on “good” leadership and
has until recently ignored the “bad” or “dark side” of leadership (Higgs, 2009). Leadership
research has extensively dealt in the past 30 years with the most powerful form of leadership
behavior that has been described so far: the charismatic approaches of transformational and
charismatic leadership. Based on its frequency and citations, transformational leadership
occupies the top position in leadership research.
But from where does the fascination for charismatic leadership come from?
Transformational and charismatic leadership describe a romantic and idealized form of
leadership. Their models have been influenced by powerful and influential persons who
shaped human history: Heroes, martyrs, saints, as well as political and religious leaders. All of
these people obtained the highest fame and success. All have in common that they are
attributed charisma. In short, transformational leadership has a great historical model: the
hero. Usually a hero has a socialized power motive with altruistic components. This means
that own power and strength are not used for egoistic purposes or even abused, but employed
for the benefit of the social community.
Although showing an unbroken enthusiasm for the charismatic leadership approaches,
criticism emerged (Bass & Steidlmeier, 1999; Conger & Kanungo, 1988): How many
transformational and charismatic leaders with a high socialized power motive actually exist in
daily business? And a second crucial question emerged to which the two most prominent
representatives of charismatic leadership approaches had to give an answer: Might there also
be a dark side of idealized transformational and charismatic leadership, which pursues selfish
goals? Both Bernard Bass with transformational leadership and Jay Conger with charismatic
leadership had to counter this criticism. Bass (1990) referred to the dark side of
transformational leadership as pseudo-transformational and Conger (1990) delineated a dark
Dark Leadership 4
side of charismatic leadership. The bright and the dark side of charismatic leadership
approaches describe two sides of the same coin. The bright and idealized side represents the
prototypical prosocial hero. The dark side refers to the anti-hero, which is characterized by a
selfish orientation. This is akin to the concepts of good against evil, yin and yang, bright
against dark, and hero versus anti-hero – they all describe antagonistic pairs.
Although it is a positive and idealistic notion that good always triumphs over evil or
that leaders should correspond to the ideal image of a hero, the reality of daily leadership is
different. For example, Maccoby (2000) postulates that many leaders are narcissists. Indeed,
people seem to be fascinated by narcissists. But where does this fascination of anti-heroes
come from? According to Jonason, Slomski, and Partyka (2012), popular characters such as
Batman or James Bond have dark personality traits (Jonason, Li, & Teicher, 2010). The
fascination of the selfish anti-hero can be explained by the fact that they ignore existing laws
as if they were above them or larger than life. Despite the strong differences between “good”
and “evil”, both may have a common motive: They both pursue the goal of power. Heroes and
anti-heroes cross borders. They disregard conventions and are driven by a higher personalized
or socialized ideal. Heroes are self-controlled, socially responsible, honest, and advocates for
social community. Anti-heroes are more impulsive, less socially acceptable, selfish, and
perhaps even dishonest. However, both heroes and anti-heroes have an agentic social style
(Jonason et al., 2010). Dark leadership represents a part of leadership reality and describes the
dark part of the coin, a selfish and impulsive leader, which may nonetheless be as effective or
successful as bright and prosocially oriented leaders. Thus, a counter-trend to the
investigation of very positive and idealized constructs can be found since the early 2000s in
personality research with the Dark Triad of personality (Paulhus & Williams, 2002). The
present chapter deals with the dark side of leaders’ personality. Furthermore, the strengths and
weaknesses of the Dark Triad will be discussed for the purpose of leader development. On the
one hand, dark leaders have excellent strengths (e.g., self-confidence and dominance) which
Dark Leadership 5
could be considered in leader development; on the other hand, the knowledge about the
weaknesses of dark leader traits could be used to handle or neutralize them effectively.
2. The Dark Triad of Personality
Paulhus and Williams (2002) coined the term “Dark Triad of personality” for three
similar albeit distinct subclinical dark traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy.
The concepts of narcissism and psychopathy originated in clinical literature. On the other
hand, Machiavellianism stems from the philosophy and tactical recommendations of Niccolò
Machiavelli, a political advisor to the Medici family in the 1500s (Christie & Geis, 1970).
Despite their different origins, narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy overlap
empirically: They all entail a character who exhibits selfishness, emotional coldness,
duplicity, and manipulation (Furnham, Richards, & Paulhus, 2013; Paulhus, 2014; Paulhus &
Williams, 2002). Still, narcissism is considered among these three traits the most adaptive and
desirable construct, while psychopathy seems least adaptive and acceptable (Rauthmann,
2012). The strongest mean correlations can be observed between psychopathy and
Machiavellianism, and the lowest associations between narcissism and Machiavellianism
(Furnham et al., 2013).
Of particular interest may be studies bringing together the Dark Triad and
interpersonal behaviors (Rauthmann & Kolar, 2013). For example, Dowgwillo and Pincus
(2016) showed that the Dark Triad projected differently onto the interpersonal circumplex
(IPC). The IPC postulates that two basic themes underlie social relationships (Bakan, 1966):
dominance/agency, related to autonomy and superiority, and affiliation/communion, related to
helping and forming nurturing relationships with others. Narcissism is characterized by high
dominance, psychopathy by a mixture of high dominance and low affiliation, and
Machiavellianism by low affiliation. In accordance with Paulhus (2014), psychopathy has the
highest impulsiveness, followed by narcissism and the relatively self-controlled
Dark Leadership 6
Machiavellianism (Malesza & Ostaszewski, 2016). Psychopathy and Machiavellianism share
both a high level in manipulation. Narcissism exhibited the highest level in grandiosity,
followed by psychopathy, while Machiavellianism does not tend be associated with grandiose
fantasies. In contrast to Machiavellians and psychopaths, who exhibited a greater tendency to
negative humor styles (aggressive, self-defeating), narcissists showed a positive affiliative
humor style (Veselka, Schermer, Martin, & Vernon, 2010). Further, narcissism seems to be
positively, Machiavellianism negatively, and psychopathy both positively and negatively
related to socio-emotional skills (Nagler, Reiter, Furtner, & Rauthmann, 2014). Thus, on
average, narcissists still appear as the more social among dark personalities. We should
mention here that the terms “narcissist”, “Machiavellian”, and “psychopath” are used as
abbreviations for people who score highly on standardized measures of narcissism,
Machiavellianism, and psychopathy as continuous trait dimensions. No psychopathology or
diagnostic labeling should be inferred here. Paulhus (2014) gives an overview of the key
features of the Dark Triad relative to the average population-wide level (see Table 1).
Table 1: Key features of the Dark Triad (based on Paulhus, 2014).
Note: ++ (high levels of a given trait), + (slightly elevated levels)
2.1 The Dark Triad
Narcissism. Narcissists are grandiose self-promoters who strive for admiration from
others (Paulhus, 2014). Narcissists exhibit an excessive ego and show selfish behavior
(Paulhus & Williams, 2002). Raskin and Hall (1979) introduced the Narcissistic Personality
Inventory (NPI), which represents a subclinical version of the DSM-defined personality
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disorder. On a conceptual level, the main facets of the NPI include grandiosity, entitlement,
dominance, and superiority (Paulhus & Williams, 2002). More recent conceptualizations
distinguish between narcissistic grandiosity and narcissistic vulnerability (e.g., Cain, Pincus,
& Ansell, 2008). In a similar vein, Back et al. (2013) described a “bright” and a “dark” side of
narcissism, narcissistic admiration and rivalry. Narcissistic admiration involves the pursuit of
uniqueness, grandiose fantasies, and charming behavior. Narcissistic rivalry is characterized
by the pursuit of superiority, devaluation of others, and aggressive behavior. While
narcissistic admiration leads to a self-confident, dominant, and expressive appearance,
narcissistic rivalry entails arrogant and contentious behavior. In the mid- to long-term time
range, narcissistic rivalry leads to a strong decrease in popularity in social groups (Leckelt,
Küfner, Nestler, & Back, 2015).
Machiavellianism. According to Paulhus (2014), Machiavellians are master
manipulators, pursuing a long-term oriented calculated social manipulation. As Hawley
(2003) notes, Machiavellians are “coercive controllers” with an adaptive combination of pro-
and antisocial tactics to best achieve their career-success related goals. Machiavellians are
cynical, tactical, and believe in interpersonal manipulation as the key for life success
(Furnham et al., 2013). They are cold-hearted and callous, and their primary motivation lies in
obtaining money, power, and status (Furtner & Baldegger, 2016). In contrast to narcissists,
however, they do not need admiration per se; rather, that would only be good if it were also
useful towards some other ultimate goal (e.g., if it resulted in more power or money). Thus,
self-promotion and self-aggrandization are not ultimate goals per se for Machiavellians, but
rather means to another end.
Psychopathy. Psychopathy is characterized by impulsivity, thrill-seeking, low
empathy, callousness, and interpersonal manipulation (Cleckley, 1976; Hare, 2003; Paulhus &
Wiliams, 2002). Psychopathy can be divided into two interrelated factors (Hare, 2003): Factor
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1 with callous and manipulative traits (primary psychopathy) and Factor 2 with antisocial
behavioral tendencies (secondary psychopathy). Factor 2 differs strongly from narcissism and
Machiavellianism (Jones & Figueredo, 2013). Jones and Paulhus (2011b) showed that
psychopathy is related to dysfunctional impulsivity, whereas narcissism is associated with
functional impulsivity. Psychopaths are unable to inhibit antisocial impulses and show high
risk-taking behavior (e.g., persisting in gambling which leads to financial misbehavior; see
Jones, 2014). In contrast to narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism show stronger
positive relations to self-reported violence (Pailing, Boon, & Egan, 2014). Moreover,
psychopathy is most strongly associated with bullying behaviors, followed by
Machiavellianism, and narcissism (Baughman, Dearing, Giammarco, & Vernon, 2012). Thus,
among the Dark Triad, psychopathy seems to be the socially most aversive, partly
dysfunctional, and thus “darkest” trait.
2.2 Is there a common dark core?
Recently, researchers raised the question whether antisocial Dark Triad personalities
exhibit a common dark or “evil” core and what that core would be (Book, Visser, & Volk,
2015; Jonason, Li, Webster, & Schmidt, 2009; Jones & Paulhus, 2011a; Jones & Figueredo,
2013). Although there is an overlap and a potential dark core, the Dark Triad traits should best
be viewed as separate domains. Indeed, recently developed inventories confirm unique
contributions of each trait to laboratory behaviors and real-world outcomes (Paulhus, 2014).
Within the five-factor model of personality (Big Five: Extraversion, Agreeableness,
Conscientiousness, Neuroticism, and Openness; Costa & McCrae, 1992), low Agreeableness
is the strongest negative correlate of the Dark Triad (Furnham et al. 2013). Another potential
dark core could be Honest-Humility from Ashton and Lee’s (2001) HEXACO model
(basically the Big Five plus a sixth factor). This sixth dimension distinguishes between
prosocial and antisocial behavior and therefore may be better qualified to explain the Dark
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Triad. Lee and Ashton (2005) showed that all three Dark Triad traits were strongly negatively
correlated with the Honest-Humility factor (all rs > -.50).
Beside basic personality traits, a second possible core of the Dark Triad could be lack
of empathy or callousness (Jones & Paulhus, 2011a; Paulhus, 2014). While narcissists,
Machiavellians, and psychopaths exhibit a certain degree of callousness (Jonason, Lyons,
Bethell, & Ross, 2013), they are nonetheless able to cognitively understand the emotions of
others, though without an affective response to this information (Book, Quinsey, & Langford,
2007; Wai & Tiliopoulos, 2014). Thus, they have no impairment in cognitive empathy, but
exhibit a specific form of cold empathy. Moreover, Machiavellians have the ability to adapt
their empathy to current situations (McIlwain et al., 2012).
A third possible core may be psychopathy itself. Primary psychopathy could
potentially represent the core of all three dark personalities. This approach would support
empirical findings in which psychopathy is strongly related to narcissism and
Machiavellianism, whereas narcissism and Machiavellianism are not as strongly interrelated
(Furnham et al., 2013; Paulhus & Williams, 2002). However, psychopathy should still be
regarded as an independent construct (Book et al., 2015).
Another explanation for a common dark core may lie in the leadership-relevant trait of
social dominance. For example, Jones and Figueredo (2013) could show that social
dominance orientation has the same common core as the Dark Triad. Social dominance and
need for power are important targets for leader development (McClelland, 1975). “Friendly”
leaders with a high need for affiliation could learn from a leader coach how they can increase
their leader effectiveness with a more dominant appearance and a stronger social dominance
orientation (controlled conversations). Overall, future research should provide further
evidence that, despite differences between the Dark Triad traits, there may be a common core.
Dark Leadership 10
2.3 Origins of the Dark Triad
2.3.1 Evolutionary theory
At the core of all evolutionary approaches to personality is an important behavioral
ecological concept called Life History Theory (Del Giudice, Gangestad, & Kaplan, 2015;
Rushton, 1985, 1995; Stearns, 1992). Life History Theory proposes that trade-offs considering
the investment of energy in somatic growth versus recreational effort and quality versus
quantity of offspring underlies individual differences in personality (Ellis, Figueredo,
Brumbach, & Schlomer, 2009; Kaplan & Gangestad, 2005). It has been argued that dark
personalities have a fast life history strategy in exhibiting short-term mating, selfishness, and
other antisocial manifestations (e.g., Brumbach, Figueredo, & Ellis, 2009; Jonason et al.,
2009). Life history strategy is shaped by the environment early in life (between birth and the
age of five years), promoting either a slow strategy associated with long-term investments to
the future or a fast strategy characterized by the opposite pattern (Belsky, Schlomer, & Ellis,
2012; Ellis & Del Giudice, 2014). Del Giudice (2014) links fast life strategies with traits such
as low empathy, poor executive control, low agreeableness, enhanced impulsivity, risk taking,
opportunistic interpersonal intercourses, and volatile mating (Glenn, Kurzban, & Raine,
2011). All these features could be targets for leader development and increase the awareness
about the dark side of dark leader traits. They share one commonality, which is constitutional
for a fast life strategy: they lead to short-term advantages, but entail social and even formal
sanctions and punishments over the long term. McDonald, Donnellan, and Navarrete (2011)
showed that antisocial impulsiveness in secondary psychopathy, entitlement in narcissism,
and Machiavellianism are associated with a fast life strategy. By contrast, a slow life strategy
has been linked to fearless dominance, which is assigned to primary psychopathy.
However, one may ask how evolutionary approaches to Dark Triad personality traits
can be linked to leadership? As noted previously, dark traits can be described as an excessive
dominance motivation (see Johnson, Leedom, & Muhtadie, 2012): Narcissistic leaders desire
Dark Leadership 11
social power and aspire to be in leader positions, psychopathic ones usurp resources in an
aggressive manner, and Machiavellian ones exploit others by deception and manipulation
(Grijalva & Harms, 2014; Jones & Figueredo, 2013). Thus, dark personalities seem to
encompass a variety of behavioral dispositions, which qualify them as leaders (Grijalva &
2.3.2 Psychogenic motives and values
Motives represent the basic drive for human action. Three particularly fundamental
motives have been repeatedly identified in literature: need for power, need for achievement,
and need for affiliation (McClelland, 1985). Need for power corresponds to the desire of a
person to take influence and control other people. Need for achievement represents a certain
standard of excellence that someone strives towards. People with a high need for achievement
strive to improve constantly their own performance. Need for affiliation aims to build,
maintain, or restore positive relationships with others.
Jonason and Ferrell (2016) examined relations between these three central human
motives and the Dark Triad. The Dark Triad showed particularly positive relations with need
for power (being dominant and powerful). Merely narcissism was additionally related to need
for affiliation. Both Machiavellianism and psychopathy showed only low and negative
relations to need for achievement, while narcissism exhibited inconsistent relations to need for
achievement. While Machiavellians and psychopaths had no need for social attachments,
narcissists require other people to obtain social appreciation (Jonason & Ferrell, 2016).
Another relevant study comes from Kajonius, Persson, and Jonason (2015) who examined
relations between the Dark Triad and 10 universal Schwartz values (e.g., power, security, and
benevolence). Machiavellianism and narcissism showed positive relations to the values
achievement and power, whereas psychopathy was positively associated with hedonism and
power. Overall, all three Dark Triad traits exhibited strong relations with power motives and
values. As need for power, which can be developed in leaders (McClelland, 1975), is a central
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foundation for leadership, Dark Triad traits may also play an important role in leadership
(Furtner & Baldegger, 2016). Specifically, a strong power motive may be assessed at the
beginning of leader development sessions because it could be cultivated and formed to
something productive. On the other hand, the more agonistic and combative traits that come
with the Dark Triad could also be harnessed, especially in settings with high and fierce
competition. Thus, leader development trainings may benefit from assessing dark traits
because these may come with certain strengths (e.g., need for power, social dominance) that
confer an adaptive value in certain work environments (e.g., high competition).
3. The Dark Triad at Work
Dark personalities at work are relatively understudied (Spain, Harms, & Lebreton,
2013), though there is a recent surge in interest for this topic (Cohen, 2016; Harms & Spain,
2015). However, workplace behavior is one of the major outcome domains of the Dark Triad
(for a review, see Furnham et al., 2013). In a meta-analysis (245 independent samples),
O’Boyle, Forsyth, Banks, and McDaniel (2012) examined associations between the Dark
Triad, job performance, and counterproductive work behavior (CWB). Results showed that
Machiavellianism and psychopathy were negatively related to job performance. All three
Dark Triad traits were positively associated with CWB. This means that the assessment of,
and also reflection about, Dark Triad traits in ourselves (and others) may help us learn to
shape our behavior as a leader. Such reflection, in turn, may be able to make us more
effective. However, no studies have so far (to the best of our knowledge) examined the
beneficial effects of self/insight into one’s dark traits. Context effects, in the form of level of
authority and organizational culture (ingroup collectivism), were also taken into account in
the meta-analysis (O’Boyle et al., 2012). While Machiavellianism consistently showed
negative effects on workplace behavior across all situations (independent of their level of
authority and degrees of ingroup collectivism), narcissism showed a more complex picture:
Narcissists in positions of higher levels of authority showed stronger negative relations to
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performance. Narcissists also performed more poorly in organizations with high degrees of
collectivism. Authority did not moderate relations between narcissism and CWB.
Furthermore, the relation between narcissism and CWB became weaker when collectivism
increased. Authority weakened associations between psychopathy and CWB. Psychopaths,
who are able to gain higher positions in organizations, may better control their impulsivity
and antisocial tendencies. However, there were only small effects between the Dark Triad and
job performance as well as small to moderate effects to CWB. Due to predominantly weak
effects, Cohen (2016) suggests various mediators (e.g., perception of organizational politics)
and moderators (e.g. political skill, organizational culture/climate) which should be
considered in future studies.
Jonason et al. (2012) investigated associations between the Dark Triad and tactics of
workplace manipulation. Psychopathy was associated with hard tactics (e.g., threats),
narcissism with soft tactics (e.g., offering compliments), and Machiavellianism with both.
Compared to women, men showed a more aggressive style of interpersonal influence. Overall,
though, Dark Triad personalities tended more towards hard than soft tactics, such as social
influence and manipulation at the workplace. Further, in a recent experimental design, Roeser
et al. (2016) examined effects of the Dark Triad and unethical behavior (operationalized by
cheating and lying). While Machiavellianism positively predicted cheating and psychopathy
impulsive cheating and lying, only narcissism did not predict unethical behavior (cheating and
lying) in this study. Thus, narcissism can be expected to be the most socially adaptive
dimension among the Dark Triad (Rauthmann & Kolar, 2012, 2013).
Jonason, Wee, Li, and Jackson (2014) dealt with the question of which vocational
interests are related to the Dark Triad. The results of their study suggest that the Dark Triad
may be useful for career inventories and talent management. For example, in terms of person-
job fit, dark personalities may be specifically interested in, select themselves into, and excel at
specific jobs and vocations. Psychopaths were more interested in realistic (e.g., building
Dark Leadership 14
kitchen cabinets) and practical jobs (e.g., repairing motor vehicles). Machiavellianism was
negatively related to social (e.g., teaching children), caring (e.g., treating people who are
sick), and practical jobs. Narcissism correlated positively with cultured (e.g., acting in a film)
and caring jobs. Psychopaths preferred jobs where they have little social interaction and were
relatively autonomous. Narcissists chose workplaces which have positive effects regarding
social admiration. Machiavellians avoided jobs that do not lead to status (Jonason et al.,
2014). But how do Dark Triad personalities perceive their workplaces? Machiavellians and
psychopaths perceived their workplaces as more competitive, whereas narcissists experienced
them as prestigious and more autonomous. Moreover, perceived prestige was a positive
predictor of job satisfaction (Jonason, Wee, & Li, 2015).
Can dark personalities have successful careers? Spurk, Keller and Hirschi (2016)
examined in early career employees the relations between the Dark Triad and subjective as
well as objective career success. Narcissism was positively associated with salary, and
Machiavellianism with leadership position and career satisfaction. Only psychopathy was
negatively associated with all career outcomes. Thus, narcissism and Machiavellianism were
positively related to objective career success. Furthermore, the Dark Triad traits of leaders can
have specific effects on followers’ career success. For example, Volmer, Koch and Göritz
(2016) showed in a longitudinal study that narcissism had positive effects on followers’
subjective (e.g., follower career satisfaction) and objective career success (e.g., follower
salary and promotions). The authors suggested that narcissistic leaders try to retain and
reward their followers to get consecutive admiration and appreciation. Conversely,
psychopathic leaders showed strongly negative effects on followers’ well-being and job
satisfaction (Mathieu, Neumann, Hare, & Babiak, 2014).
4. Dark Leadership
All three Dark Triad traits are related to need for power and have a social dominance
orientation (Hodson, Hogg, & MacInnis, 2009; Jones & Figueredo, 2013). A social
Dark Leadership 15
dominance orientation means that individuals prefer to control conversations and put pressure
to others. This fits to Altemeyer’s (2004) observation that dominant people are power-hungry
and manipulative. Thus, social dominance could be a viable construct to distinguish leaders
from non-leaders (Mann, 1959). Indeed, dominance was described as one of the first traits
related to leadership (Judge, Piccolo, & Kosalka, 2009). Dominant people have a higher
probability to emerge as leaders and be promoted to positions of authority (Son Hing,
Bobocel, Zanna, & McBride, 2007). Dominant leaders appear as competent and emit strong
authority. Interestingly, they are perceived as competent, even when they are not (Judge et al.,
2009). Although dominant leaders exhibit a politically oppressive style, each of the Dark
Triad traits may have a specific dominance style: Narcissistic leaders have a strong egoistic
focus (Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001); Machiavellian ones a cold, calculating, long-term oriented
and strategic style (Jones & Paulhus, 2009); and psychopathic ones an impulsive and
antisocial style (Williams, Paulhus, & Hare, 2007). The particular uniqueness of the Dark
Triad traits has different effects on leadership styles. In their theoretical-conceptual work
about the bright and the dark side of leader traits, Judge et al. (2009) focused on
Machiavellianism and narcissism, though they disregarded psychopathy. Although
psychopathy is the “darkest” and most malevolent type of the Dark Triad which could
arguably deal out strong damage to an organization, its role in organizational leadership is the
least explored (Mathieu et al., 2014). To approach the phenomenon of dark leadership,
narcissistic leadership, Machiavellian leadership, and psychopathic leadership is described
below in some detail.
4.1 Narcissistic leadership
According to Maccoby (2000), many dominating military, religious, political, and
economic leaders have a narcissistic personality (Rosenthal & Pittinsky, 2006). Narcissistic
leaders are perceived as arrogant, dominant, and authoritarian. They are effective leaders and
emerge as leaders in group settings (Nevicka, Ten Velden, De Hoogh, & Van Vianen, 2011),
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probably because of their extraversion (Grijalva, Harms, Newman, Gaddis, & Fraley, 2015).
Rosenthal and Pittinsky (2006) emphasize that one should remove the idea whether
narcissistic leaders are “good” or “evil”. Rather, the context has to be considered (e.g.,
accordance between narcissistic leaders’ and organizational goals). Cultural factors (e.g.,
individualistic culture), environmental factors (e.g., instability, crisis), and structural factors
(e.g., absence of strict information control) have an important role in the emergence of
narcissistic leadership (Ouimet, 2010). Narcissistic leaders could show a beneficial or a
harmful behavior for organizations. It is therefore not surprising that Judge et al. (2009)
describe the bright and the dark side of narcissism, Maccoby (2000) the pros and cons, and
Rosenthal and Pittinsky (2006) the upside and the downside of narcissistic leaders (see Table
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Table 1: The bright and the dark side of narcissism.
Bright and dark side of narcissism (Judge et al., 2009)
• Charismatic leadership
• High leader performance
• Consensus-oriented in political and
• High organizational performance
• Grandiose self-love (others are inferior)
• Reputation-dependent decisions
• Insensitive and hostile
• Lack of empathy
Pros and cons of narcissistic leaders (Maccoby, 2000)
• Great vision
• Charismatic and gifted in attracting
• Sensitive to criticism
• Poor listeners
• Lack of empathy
• Lack of mentoring others
• Desire to compete
Upside and downside of narcissistic leaders (Rosenthal & Pittinsky, 2006)
• Supreme confidence and dominance
• Inspiring followers with great visions
• Context-dependent necessity (e.g., social
• Shape the future
• Great charisma
• Feelings of inferiority and emptiness
• Need for recognition and superiority
• Hypersensitivity and anger
• Lack of empathy
• Irrationality and inflexibility
• Paranoia (e.g., creating enemies where
there had been none)
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In a military context the best rated leaders represented the bright side of narcissism
(e.g., high in egotism and self-esteem), but without the dark side of manipulativeness and
impression management (Paunonen, Lönnqvist, Verkasalo, Leiikas, & Nissinen, 2006). For
practitioners, this knowledge could be used to focus and develop more strongly the strengths
of narcissists while trying to work against negative aspects of manipulativeness and
impression management. As can be seen in Table 2, narcissism shows particularly important
associations to charismatic leadership.
Furtner, Rauthmann, and Sachse (2011) examined associations between self-
leadership and the Dark Triad. They could show that self-leadership was positively related to
narcissism. In turn, self-leadership is an important basic skill for active and effective
leadership behavior, in particular transformational and charismatic leadership (Furtner &
Baldegger, 2016; Furtner, Baldegger, & Rauthmann, 2013). Rosenthal and Pittinsky (2006)
describe narcissism in a framework of two related leadership models: power motivation and
charismatic leadership. The authors state that power is one of the great motivators for
narcissistic leaders. Need for power is also one of most central motivational tendencies of the
entire Dark Triad. Interestingly, the power motive of U.S. presidents has been related to
charisma, communication ability, humor, combative skill, aggressiveness, and
exploitativeness (Deluga, 1997; Winter, 2005). Narcissistic leadership is related to a specific
subtype of power motivation, the personalized power motivation. Leaders with a high
personalized power motive have a charismatic, selfish, and aggressive style. Charisma, in
turn, is one of the most important positive traits of narcissism (Rosenthal & Pittinsky, 2006).
Not surprisingly, narcissism is also positively related to presidential charismatic leadership
and performance (Deluga, 1997). Charismatic leaders are exceptionally gifted (both
intellectually and socially), though charisma also has its dark side (see Conger, 1990 for
charismatic leadership). Similar to a personalized power motive, the dark side of charismatic
Dark Leadership 19
leadership is closely related to narcissistic leadership (Furtner & Baldegger, 2016; Rosenthal
& Pittinsky, 2006).
Previous studies on narcissism and leadership showed mixed results. The relationship
between narcissism and leader effectiveness could only be observed in self- but not in other-
ratings (e.g., supervisor- and subordinate-report). Grijalva et al. (2015) demonstrated that an
optimal, mid-range level of leaders’ narcissism is positively related to leader effectiveness.
Thus, very high and very low levels of narcissism are hindering, whereby moderate
narcissism is positively related to leadership effectiveness. Among the Dark Triad traits
narcissism is very agentic in nature and shows the strongest associations with extraversion
and openness (e.g., Paulhus & Williams, 2002). To foster leader emergence and effectivity,
narcissists should focus more on the “bright” side of narcissism and show a moderate form of
narcissistic characteristic (see Table 2). Ong, Roberts, Arthur, Woodman, and Akehurst
(2016) observed positive and negative effects of narcissistic leadership on leader emergence
and leader effectivity. While narcissists can be perceived at the beginning as transformational
and charismatic (i.e. leader emergence), the attractiveness of narcissists in peer-ratings, after a
brief “honeymoon” period of leadership, declined rapidly (i.e. leader effectivity). This is also
in line with other research demonstrating that narcissists’ initial positive appearance and
effects diminish after prolonged interactions (Küfner, Nestler, & Back, 2013; Leckelt et al.,
2015; Paulhus, 1998).
4.2 Machiavellian leadership
Judge et al. (2009) emphasize the important role of Machiavellianism in leadership,
and similar to narcissism, they describe a bright and dark side of Machiavellianism.
Machiavellians strive to leadership positions in which they can plan, coordinate, organize, and
control. They are very effective in organizational administration (Calhoon, 1969) and exhibit
a high calculative motivation to lead. Using an experimental design Drory and Gluskinos
(1980) compared high versus low Machiavellian leaders in task group-settings. High
Dark Leadership 20
Machiavellian leaders gave more orders, showed a greater responsiveness to situational
demands, exhibited a more participative style under unfavorable conditions, and were
consistently less concerned with their group members’ feelings. They had a wider range of
appropriate behaviors than low Machiavellian leaders. These findings fit to the
conceptualization of Machiavellian leaders as very strategic in their thinking and able to
navigate power dynamics in their business and organizations. Such leaders exhibit a wide
range of different influencing tactics to build political relations (Judge et al., 2009).
According to Simonton (1986), Machiavellian presidents had more legislative victories.
Additionally, Machiavellian presidents were highly effective by demonstrating intellectual
Although narcissists are usually perceived as more charismatic, Machiavellian leaders
may be experienced as charismatic under specific circumstances (e.g., occupation of very
powerful positions). For example, Deluga (2001) analyzed 39 American presidents and
showed that presidential Machiavellianism was positively associated with charismatic
leadership and rated performance. In a historiometric examination, Bedell, Hunter, Angie, and
Vert (2006) showed that charismatic (e.g., John F. Kennedy, Benito Mussolini), ideological
(e.g., Mohandas Gandhi, Fidel Castro), and pragmatic (e.g., Warren Buffet, Al Capone)
leaders differentially exhibited Machiavellian characteristics. Charismatic leaders showed
moderate and pragmatic leaders the highest levels of Machiavellianism. Pragmatic leaders
used a more functional, problem-based approach that deals with present situations and
demands. Personalized leaders with a strong ego focus exhibited more extreme Machiavellian
characteristics, while surprisingly also socialized “altruistic” leaders used Machiavellian
strategies. They manipulated given situations to obtain efficient and practical solutions. The
dark side of Machiavellianism can be attributed directly to the observations of Niccolò
Machiavelli. To reach their long-term goals, Machiavellian leaders abuse their leadership
Dark Leadership 21
position for personal purposes and reduce the work-related intrinsic motivation of their
subordinates (Judge et al., 2009).
Based on the results of three studies, Kessler et al. (2010) proposed a three-
dimensional model of Machiavellianism: maintaining power (e.g., “An effective individual
builds a powerbase of strong people”), management practices (e.g., “It is important for an
individual to learn about the mistakes of unsuccessful people”), and manipulative behaviors
(e.g., “Since most people are weak, a rational individual should take advantage of the
situation to maximize his/her own gains”). The first two dimensions are more positive in
nature: maintaining power and management practices were positively associated with
conscientious and negatively to CWB, while manipulative behaviors were positively related
to CWB. Machiavellian leaders showed positive associations to subordinates’ perceptions of
abusive supervision. These relations were fully mediated by subordinates’ perceptions of
authoritarian leadership. Therefore, Machiavellian leader tendencies will strongly express
authoritarian leadership behaviors (Kiazad, Restubog, Zagenczyk, Kiewitz, & Tang, 2010).
Not only leaders, but also followers, could have high Machiavellian tendencies. In a
recent study Belschak, Den Hartog, and Karlshoven (2015) demonstrated that
transformational leadership has a positive influence on Machiavellian followers.
Transformational leadership moderated relations between Machiavellian followers and
organizational citizenship behavior. Organizational Citizenship Behavior (OCB) is also
known as the good soldier syndrome (Organ, 1988). Citizenship behavior are often go beyond
an employee’s job description, for example helping others or putting in extra hours (Bolino,
Klotz, Turnley, & Harvey, 2013).With leaders’ transformational leadership the selfish
Machiavellian follower could be transformed in pro-organizational behavior. Nevertheless, it
has to be considered that Machiavellians may use OCB and prosocial behavior for selfish
purposes. Thus, it could also exists a dark side of organizational citizenship behavior (Bolino
et al., 2013). There are positive as well as negative Machiavellian tendencies which could be
Dark Leadership 22
considered in leader development. Machiavellian leaders are relatively self-controlled, acute,
and pragmatic. They exhibit high flexibility and are excellent business administrators.
Additionally, Machiavellian leaders have excellent negotiation skills (Judge et al., 2009). The
more negative aspects of Machiavellian tendencies would need to be recognized, reflected
upon, and eventually neutralized (or at least somehow channeled into more constructive
ways). For example, Machiavellian leaders are strongly manipulative and dishonest. They
exhibit an extrinsic (calculative) form of motivation to lead which reduce intrinsic work
motivation of followers. These tendencies will have to be kept at bay.
4.3 Psychopathic leadership
Psychopathy is the “darkest” Dark Triad trait in organizational leadership and also the
least explored (Mathieu et al., 2014). There is little evidence in terms of psychopathy and
leadership (Boddy, 2015a). To describe psychopathic leadership, the more general term of a
“corporate psychopath” is broadly used. Approximately 1% of the population who work for
organizations are estimated to be psychopaths (Coid, Yang, Ullrich, Roberts, & Hare, 2009).
How do psychopaths obtain organizational leadership positions? As soon as psychopaths are
in organizations, they use diverse strategies of impression management to reach their goal of
rising to the top of the organization. Psychopathic leaders ally themselves with their
promotors and at the same time they oppose their enemies which in their view constitute an
obstacle to a successful organizational career. Chiaburu, Munoz and Gardner (2013) showed
that primary psychopathy is an important predictor of careerism. According to Babiak and
Hare (2006), psychopaths divide organizational members in two fractions: One fraction is
composed of their supporters, the other fraction of their detractors who recognize that the
organization is in danger. Psychopaths try to outmaneuver and remove their detractors to
better ascend to power. According to Babiak, Neumann, and Hare (2010), about 4 % of
leaders at the senior management level of organizations are psychopaths. Psychopathic
leaders were associated positively with perceived charisma and presentation style, including
Dark Leadership 23
excellent communication styles (Babiak et al., 2010). Psychopathic leaders can be
predominantly found in senior management levels (Spencer & Byrne, 2016). Thus, good
presentation skills and excellent communication styles could be considered as strengths to
build upon in leader development, especially as they seem to promote organizational career.
Psychopathic leaders are very sensitive in the selection of their followers, who must
pay them absolute loyalty. Conformity and dependability of subordinates may play an
important role for the success of psychopathic leaders. Regarding the relationship between
psychopathy and the full-range leadership model (transformational, transactional and laissez-
faire leadership) two studies with relatively similar results revealed no associations between
psychopathy and charisma (Mathieu, Neumann, Babiak & Hare, 2015; Westerlaken &
Woods, 2013): Psychopathy was positively correlated with passive leadership (management
by exception and laissez-faire leadership) and negatively with active and effective leadership
(transformational and transactional leadership). Thus, psychopathic leaders avoid decision
making and do not care about their followers. Mathieu et al. (2015) concluded that, like
narcissism, psychopathy may be associated with leader emergence or a surface identification
with leadership, but not with leader effectiveness. Mathieu and Babiak (2015) also
demonstrated that leaders’ psychopathy was a stronger predictor for employee attitudes (job
satisfaction, turnover intentions, work motivation, job neglect) than the three dimensions of
the full-range leadership model. Mathieu and Babiak (2016) also found that psychopathic
leaders were positively associated with abusive supervision and employees’ turnover
intentions, and negatively to followers’ job satisfaction.
In summary, Boddy (2015a) expects a variety of negative consequences of
psychopathy for organizations (e.g., corporate failure, fraudulent activities, exploited
followers, workplace bullying, and short-term decision making). In a longitudinal case study
of a corporate psychopath as CEO, Boddy (2015b) describes the negative long-term effects of
psychopathic leadership. The delineated leadership style showed strong similarities to laissez-
Dark Leadership 24
faire leadership with negative outcomes related to bullying, staff withdrawal, and high
turnover rates. A high corporate psychopathy score of the CEO also reduced employees’
organizational commitment, creativity, and innovation. Furthermore, the psychopathic CEO
focused on the strength of his own position and external reputation, while implementing a
climate of organizational fear. The dark aspects of psychopathic leadership should be
counteracted in leader development as they show a broad variety of negative outcomes for
individuals, teams, and organizations.
4.4 Dark leader traits and leader development
Leader development focuses on the intrapersonal development of skills (e.g., self-
awareness, self-regulation, and self-motivation) which are required for their formal leadership
roles (Day, 2000). These skills lead to increased individual knowledge, trust, and personal
power (Zand, 1997). The Dark Triad traits, rather than being purely maladaptive, can be seen
as adaptations promoting benefits for an individual primarily over the short term in an
unpredictable environment, along with some facets promoting also long-term success
(McDonald et al., 2011). This aspect can be employed for developing leaders.
How can the knowledge about Dark Traits be used for leader development?
Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy are relatively stable personality traits, which
should be targeted through the selection process of leaders (Reichard & Johnson, 2011). The
knowledge about the dark personality traits of leaders could be used to determine the extent to
which a development readiness already exists in leaders (Avolio, 2004). Narcissists could
show the strongest development readiness, followed by Machiavellians and psychopaths
(Harms, Spain, & Hannah, 2011). Among the Dark Triad, narcissism is the trait that is most
strongly associated with agentic traits (openness, extraversion) and self-leadership (Furtner et
al., 2011; Paulhus & Williams, 2002). Self-leadership, in turn, is an important prerequisite for
charismatic and transformational leadership (Furtner et al., 2013). Thus, narcissistic leaders
may be perceived as charismatic. Narcissists strive for social recognition and admiration.
Dark Leadership 25
Both the leadership position as well as the leadership process can fulfill their basic motive for
social recognition and admiration. Narcissists enjoy the leadership process per se and show a
high intrinsic (affective) motivation to lead (Chan & Drasgow, 2001). The intrinsic
motivation of narcissistic leaders, in turn, increases their charisma (Barbuto, 2005; Furtner et
al., 2013; Shamir, House, & Arthur, 1993). Charisma is a key tool for narcissistic leaders to
receive social recognition and admiration. Not only the intrinsic motivation to lead increases
the charismatic perceptions of narcissists, but also their dominant, self-confident, and at the
same time charming appearance. On the basis of their central need for power, recognition, and
admiration, the development of charisma is a socially adaptive strategy of narcissists. In
summary, narcissists have good requirements to benefit from leader development as they are
open to new experiences and insatiable learners. They incorporate new knowledge (e.g., about
self-motivation) quickly to continually improve their personal effectivity and ultimately reach
their central goal.
On the basis of their relative good self-control, high adaptability, and flexibility for
situational demands, Machiavellians may also benefit from leader development.
Machiavellians could show a high learning ability in the framework of leader development, if
the mediated knowledge (e.g., increasing ones self-regulation) serves for their personal long-
term goal (attaining power and status). Machiavellians are masters of manipulation and
tactical deception. They have the highest self-control among the Dark Triad traits (Paulhus,
2014), show a high adaptability, and must exert a certain degree of awareness to flexibly
adapt to specific situations. On the basis of increased awareness (of internal and external
processes) and the acquisition of new and personally relevant knowledge, Machiavellians
could also benefit from leader development.
Psychopaths have a great interest in experiencing new things and are very
adventurous. Despite their high impulsivity and their relative short-term focus, psychopaths
who strive for high leadership positions in organizations could also obtain advantages from
Dark Leadership 26
leader development. To reduce their central weakness of low self-control, an emphasis should
be put on the training of specific self-regulatory techniques (e.g., cultivation of mindfulness
How can the strengths and weaknesses of dark leaders be utilized in leader
development? The knowledge about the pros (adaptive advantages) and cons (maladaptive
disadvantages) of the Dark Triad traits can be very useful for leader coaches. Dark leaders can
reflect on their strengths and weaknesses and develop a plan to use their strengths and
neutralize or eliminate their weaknesses. Young executives, “bright” leaders (e.g.,
empowering leaders), and leaders with a high need for affiliation as well as a low social
dominance orientation could learn from the strengths of dark leaders. For example, affiliative
leaders may become aware that they may not be sufficiently dominant and effective in their
With the central aim of leader development in improving leaders’ individual
knowledge, trust, and personal power as well as to promote the human capital of individual
leaders, Table 3 summarize the key strengths and weaknesses of leaders’ Dark Triad traits.
This knowledge can be utilized directly in leader development.
Table 3: Strengths (to be developed) and weaknesses (to be worked on) of the Dark Triad in
Strengths (to be developed)
Weaknesses (to be worked on)
• Intrinsic (affective) motivation
• Sensitive to social cues
• Oversensitive to criticism
• Exaggerated self-love
• Lack of empathy
Dark Leadership 27
• Highly flexible in social
• Astute and strategic thinking
• Effective in business
• Tactical negotiating skills
• Broad variety of influencing
• Extrinsic (calculating)
motivation to lead
• Lack of empathy
• Unpredictable and irrational
5. Conclusions and Future Research
The dark side of leadership has long been ignored in leadership research and is still
under researched. Currently, many different terms are used for the dark side of leadership
(e.g., destructive leadership: Krasikova, Green & LeBreton, 2013; toxic leadership: Pelletier,
2010; abusive leadership: Johnson, Venus, Lanaj, Mao, & Chang, 2012; unethical leadership:
Brown & Mitchell, 2010). Yet, a uniform concept of dark leadership does not exist, but would
be highly conducive for the exploration of the dark side of leadership. Focusing on Dark Triad
traits of leaders may be a fruitful foundation for dark leadership research. Krasikova et al.
(2013) describe the Dark Triad leader characteristics as predictors of engaging into
destructive leadership. While personality research has investigated the Dark Triad of
personality for over 15 years, leadership research focused more recently and independently of
personality psychology on narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. Following the
issue whether there is a dark common core of the Dark Triad of personality, the question
Dark Leadership 28
arises if there is also a common dark core in leadership. Different potential cores of the Dark
Triad have been proposed, such as disagreeableness (Furnham et al., 2013), low
honesty/humility (Lee & Ashton, 2005), callousness (Jones et al., 2013), need for power
(Jonason & Ferrell, 2016) and social dominance orientation (Jones & Figueredo, 2013). In
leadership context need for power (McClelland, 1975) and social dominance orientation
(Judge et al., 2009) may play the most important role for dark leadership.
Narcissistic leadership, as the most adaptive and brightest side of leaders’ dark
tendencies, has received the most attention so far. The darker the personality trait, the less it
has been researched. As such, psychopathy, being the most malicious Dark Triad trait concept
(Krasikova et al., 2013), has hardly been investigated. Generally, narcissists are deemed most
qualified as leaders and may indeed also be effective in leader roles. Besides narcissists also
Machiavellians and psychopaths strive to power and leadership positions. Nevertheless,
among the Dark Triad, narcissism could have the most important role in leadership research.
It is likely that a lot of leadership positions are occupied by narcissists (Maccoby, 2000).
Positive relations between narcissism and leader emergence confirm this (Mathieu et al.,
2015; Ong et al., 2016). As narcissists always want to approve their own grandiosity and
dominance, they strive for unrestricted social appreciation and acceptance. They have an
inherent interest in leadership and exhibit a high affective (intrinsic) motivation to lead.
An additional strength of narcissistic leaders is demonstrated by the fact that, based on
their visions, dominance, and strong social influence, they exhibit the most powerful forms of
leadership behavior, transformational and charismatic leadership. The key force of narcissistic
leaders is that they are perceived as charismatic. Nevertheless, it must be considered that
selfish narcissists are driven by a personalized power motive and therefore exhibit a dark and
personalized form of transformational and charismatic leadership.
Dark Leadership 29
In contrast, Machiavellian leaders are typical managers and administrators. They have
a special talent for planning, organizing, and controlling. Machiavellian leaders feature a high
personalized power motive and a calculative motivation to lead (Chan & Drasgow, 2001). On
higher leadership levels Machiavellians could even be perceived as charismatic, although
commonly charisma may be stronger attributed to narcissistic leaders. With their charismatic
qualities narcissistic leaders can stimulate the intrinsic motivation and performance of their
followers (Rosenthal & Pittinsky, 2006), while due to their pragmatic perspective
Machiavellians reduce followers’ work-related intrinsic motivation (Judge et al., 2009). Just
as narcissistic leaders, Machiavellian leaders show a strong authoritarian leadership behavior.
The powerful leadership approach of transformational leadership, which is more demonstrated
by narcissists, can be a means to motivate Machiavellian followers to a pro-organizational
Based on their personalized power motive and social dominance orientation,
psychopathic leaders show the strong desire to get to the top of an organization. They exhibit
a non-altruistic/antisocial motivation to lead. Psychopaths polarize and hence know only
friends or enemies. In organizational context psychopathic leaders exhibit an unpredictable
and impulsive leadership behavior. Psychopathic destructive leadership behavior could have
strong negative effects on organizational members and effectivity (Boddy, 2015b). Despite
their high impulsivity, psychopathic leaders use a wide range of strategies and tactical
arrangements, though these are usually geared more toward short-term benefits and hence not
calibrated to long-term consequences. Although psychopathy is positively associated with
leader emergence it is negatively associated with leader effectivity (Mathieu et al., 2015),
often, psychopathic leaders show a very passive and ineffective leadership behavior (e.g.,
management-by-exception, laissez-faire) and similar to Machiavellian leaders are not
interested in leadership per se. As a consequence, they entail a variety of negative effects for
their followers (e.g., low job satisfaction, work motivation, high turnover intentions, and job
Dark Leadership 30
neglect) and their organizations (e.g., corporate failure, workplace bullying), making them
truly toxic and destructive in leadership contexts.
Investigating the Dark Triad in context of leadership is a nascent field. There are
several avenues for future research. First, there is currently no clear picture of psychopathy’s
role in leadership. Results are inconsistent and sometimes contradictory (e.g., successful vs.
unsuccessful careers). Second, more studies are needed which examine the Dark Triad
directly with different types of leadership behavior and relevant outcome variables (e.g.,
leader effectiveness, followers’ job performance). Third, in the framework of the Dark Tetrad,
sub-clinical sadism is discussed as a fourth important malevolent dimension, which also has
high callousness (Paulhus, 2014). Yet the role of sadism in leadership is completely unknown.
Fourth, not only dark leaders, but also dark followers and the situational context (e.g.,
organizational individualism versus collectivism) should be considered more. Fifth, two-way
interaction effects of pairs of Dark Triad traits (e.g., a leader could exhibit high narcissistic
and Machiavellian characteristics or Machiavellian long-term strategies could buffer
psychopathic impulsivity) should be examined in the leadership context.
Finally, the effects of the Dark Triad on leader development, leader emergence, and
leader effectivity should be investigated in detail. For example, there exists only one study
examining the influence of dark personality traits on leader development (Harms et al., 2011).
The authors demonstrated that although several dark personality dimensions were negatively
associated with change in leadership, other dimensions of the Hogan Development Survey
HDS (cautious, bold, colorful, and dutiful) showed positive relations to leader development
over time. Bold (overly self-confident, arrogant, and entitled) was positively associated with
narcissism, primary psychopathy and Machiavellianism. Colorful (dramatic, attention
seeking, and interruptive) was positively related to narcissism and primary psychopathy
(Douglas, Bore, & Munro, 2012). Bold and colorful are particularly interconnected with
Dark Leadership 31
narcissism and development (Harms et al., 2011). Narcissists are insatiable learners
(Maccoby, 2003), for example, Napoleon had an enthusiastic interest for works of military
history and philosophy. The connections between psychopathy and leader development
remained unclear, although bold and colorful were also related to psychopathy. Furthermore,
bold was also associated with Machiavellianism. Machiavellians are highly adaptable and
flexible. Besides narcissism Machiavellians and psychopaths may also benefit from a leader
development program. First, this program could contain the strengths and weaknesses of
leaders’ Dark Triad traits. Second, it could also initiate specific behavioral changes. As self-
influencing processes towards behavioral change, self-leadership facets (e.g., self-goal setting,
self-observation, self-reward, and self-cueing) could be used (Lucke & Furtner, 2015). Young
or ineffective leaders could also benefit from a specific focus on leaders’ Dark Triad traits.
Passive leaders or leaders with a high need for affiliation could reflect about their (in certain
environments) inappropriate leadership behavior and learn from the strengths of dark leaders
(e.g., need for power, social dominance orientation). In the context of leader development,
leader coaches can especially use the knowledge and strengths of the Dark Triad to increase
individual knowledge, trust, personal power, and leader effectiveness.
But one must never forget that what narcissists, Machiavellians, and psychopaths have
learned will be used exceptionally for selfish purposes and goals. Thus, despite their poor
self-control and on the base of personal goals, it’s possible that narcissists, Machiavellians as
well as psychopaths could increase their personal effectivity with a leader development
program, while narcissism as the most adaptive trait of the Dark Triad promises best learning
outcomes (Spain et al., 2013).
Due to their high personalized power motive, strong social dominance orientation,
charisma, and impression management narcissists, Machiavellians, and psychopaths have in
common that they strongly and inexorable strive for leadership positions, which are directly
Dark Leadership 32
related to power and success. Therefore, it can be assumed that a variety and possibly the
majority of leadership positions are occupied with Dark Triad personalities. As Avolio,
Walumbwa, and Weber (2009) noted “the period that leadership theory and research will
enter for the next decade is indeed one of the most exciting in the history of this planet” (p.
442). Concerning this, the focus on the role of leaders’ Dark Triad personality traits and dark
leadership could improve our understanding of the complex field of leadership research,
which for long time has only been fascinated of “good” and “idealized” leadership behaviors.
Dark Leadership 33
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