Leadership and the dark triad of personality: How self-uncertainty can help unsavory leaders rise to the top



We propose a two-fold explanation, based on self-related uncertainty, to explain why individuals with antisocial personalities may be more likely to attain leadership positions in the upper echelons of organizations. First, in three experiments (Ns = 141, 238 and 602), we showed that individuals who score high on the dark triad of personality (i.e. psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism) react to the distress associated with self-related uncertainty through enhanced hostility against others, which in turn increases their motivation to lead. Second, in two correlational studies (Ns = 58 and 87) and one experiment (N = 189), we found that hypothetical and actual leaders with psychopathic traits are more likely to be supported by individuals who feel uncertain about their own sense of self. Together, our results provide evidence of the significant role played by self-uncertainty in explaining why and when dark triad individuals are able to attain leadership positions. We discuss implications for theory and research on the dark triad, leadership, and identity, and their relevance for understanding both organizational and public leadership.