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Leader narcissism and subordinate change-oriented organizational citizenship behavior: Overall justice as a moderator.

Narcissist is a term used to describe individuals who have characteristics such as grandiosity, self-love, and an inflated self-view (Campbell et al., 2006). Sigmund Freud was the first to introduce narcissism into his work on psychoanalysis (Freud, 1914/1957). Contemporary researchers, however, have examined the concept from two perspectives (Brunell et al., 2008), namely, clinical psychologists and psychiatrists consider narcissism as a personality disorder, whereas management researchers, following personality psychologists, treat it as a common measurable personality trait (Campbell et al., 2006).

Management researchers have had mixed results concerning the effect of narcissism on various aspects of leadership and firm performance. For example, Resick et al. (2009) found that the narcissism of major league baseball team owners had no effect on their team's performance. In a meta-analysis, Grijalva et al. (2015) found that the relationship between narcissism and leadership effectiveness was nonsignificant, although they identified a positive association between narcissism and leadership emergence. Indeed, they suggested that there may be offsetting positive and negative narcissism influences on leadership effectiveness. In support of this view, Deluga (1997), using an historiometric procedure, found that the narcissistic behavior of 39 U.S. presidents was positively associated with their rated performance. As the relationship between leader narcissism and behavior and performance is often skewed to a particular viewpoint in these studies, this suggests the results are complex and inconsistent.

However, these findings, particularly of the positive effects of narcissism, suggest that it may have been premature to conclude that leader narcissism will exert only negative effects on subordinates' desired behavior. It is therefore necessary to further examine the overall effects of leader narcissism on desired organizational outcomes and find the transmission mechanism.

Moreover, as most narcissistic leadership studies have been conducted in Western cultures, it remains unclear whether narcissistic leadership exerts different effects on followers in a high power distance culture where followers are more susceptible to influences from leaders. We thus addressed this issue with an army-based sample in the Republic of Korea, which is a high power distance culture (Hofstede, 1980), and examined the relationship between leader narcissism and subordinates' change-oriented organizational citizenship behavior.

Change-oriented organizational citizenship behavior (OCB-CH) refers to "constructive efforts by individuals to identify and implement changes with respect to work methods, policies, and procedures to improve the situation and performance" (Choi, 2007, p. 469). As fast-changing business environments make employees' OCB-CH crucial to the survival and success of their organization, an examination of the potential antecedents of OCB-CH is an increasingly important task. We proposed that self-confidence and authority in leader narcissism can be important antecedents of employees' OCB-CH.

We also aimed to identify a mechanism through which leadership affects various aspects of an organization (Hernandez et al., 2011). A leader's behavior can create differential mediating effects, depending on how individual employees, with different psychological processes, interpret the behavior (Javed et al., 2018). A narcissistic leader is often an extrovert, sociable, and skilled at fostering recognition by others (Campbell & Foster, 2007) to maintain or enhance their self-esteem. Rush et al. (1977) proposed in implicit leadership theory that these inherent interpersonal skills shift subordinates' attention from the unpleasantness of leader narcissism toward the importance of their rapport with the leader. Social exchange theorists have suggested that, as a result of this rapport, subordinates like their leader's extrovert and sociable character, and build reciprocity and mutual trust with the leader (Ritter & Lord, 2007). We thus suggested that change for the better in leader-member exchange (LMX) may precede subordinates' change in attitude toward their job and a behavioral change. LMX, which is the degree to which a supervisor and direct subordinate engage in a reciprocal social exchange, may mediate the relationship between leader narcissism and employee OCB-CH.

Our final aim was to reconcile inconsistent results on the effectiveness of narcissistic leaders by proposing a moderator in the relationship between leader narcissism and LMX. According to social exchange theory (Blau, 1964) a person tends to reciprocate favors offered by others. Organizational members also tend to return a favor or show respect to their organization when their leaders treat them fairly (Colquitt et al., 2001). Perceived organizational justice may therefore influence members' perception of their leaders' leadership and have a general positive effect on subordinates' attitude toward their job and leaders (Colquitt et al., 2001). However, it is possible that leader narcissism enhances employees' perceived LMX only when employees sense higher overall organizational justice; when perceived overall justice remains low, leader narcissism would not then affect employees' LMX.

In summary, we aimed to gain further understanding of leader narcissism in three ways: (a) by examining the effect of leader narcissism on subordinates' OCB-CH, (b) by examining a mediator for this relationship by incorporating LMX, and (c) we investigated the moderating role of overall justice in the relationship between leader narcissism and LMX (see Figure 1).

Literature Review and Hypothesis Development

Leader Narcissism and Subordinates' Change-Oriented Organizational Citizenship Behavior

As a personality trait, narcissism has both positive and negative effects on many aspects of organizational life (Campbell et al., 2011). Although previous researchers have focused on the negative role of narcissism, some have explored the positive effects of leader narcissism on individual and organizational outcomes, such as subordinates' job engagement and job performance (Owens et al., 2015), and corporate social responsibility (Petrenko et al., 2016). For example, Deluga (1997) found that attributes of leader narcissism, such as self-confidence, boldness of vision, and a strong desire for leadership and success, produced productive or positive outcomes.

Several researchers have pointed out that narcissistic leaders who have a grand vision and display a certain level of dominance can generate positive outcomes in certain situations (Campbell et al., 2011; Harrison & Clough, 2006). For example, Liao et al. (2019) found that leader narcissism is positively related to employee proactive behavior when LMX quality and leader identification are incongruent. Similarly, although a narcissist leader's pursuit of power is a personal act to boost their self-esteem, some researchers (Campbell & Foster, 2007) have claimed that such a leader can be viewed as self-confident, charming, and charismatic. Moreover, a leader's charismatic behavior has been found to increase subordinates' trust in, and satisfaction with, the leader, which, in turn, increased the subordinates' OCB-CH (Podsakoff et al., 1990). Therefore, leader narcissism can positively affect subordinates' OCB-CH.

Narcissistic (vs. nonnarcissistic) leaders often have a higher need to be recognized, unlike ordinary average individuals, who are inclined to avoid unnecessary risks and associated anxiety, especially in the Republic of Korea (Ko et al., 2015). These leaders thus often attempt to gain others' recognition by, for example, taking unnecessary risks and seeking sensational success, in pursuit of their goals (Campbell et al., 2011). Whatever the case, as all leaders need to mobilize resources and gain the support of subordinates to achieve success, leaders need to present them with a future vision far superior to the status quo, and initiate organizational change and innovation. Narcissistic leaders are thus motivated to cultivate subordinates' OCB-CH, such as voice and taking charge. This helps improve and even revolutionize ways of doing things in the workplace. Therefore, we proposed the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 1: Leader narcissism will be positively related to subordinates' change-oriented organizational citizenship behavior.

Mediating Effect of Leader-Member Exchange

Regarding LMX mediating the relationship between leader narcissism and subordinates' OCB-CH, the power asymmetry between a leader and subordinates makes the leader's behavior a particularly strong predictor of the quality of LMX (Liden & Maslyn, 1998).

Despite negativity being associated with narcissism in the workplace, some narcissistic characteristics are conducive to the formation of good LMX. First, as narcissistic leaders derive satisfaction by recognition and attention from colleagues and subordinates (DuBrin, 2012), one way to do this is to achieve high performance outcomes (Downs, 1997) by guiding and mobilizing subordinates. This will motivate narcissistic leaders to subdue their potential negative evaluation of subordinates and the work environment (Campbell et al., 2011), and counterproductive reactions, such as disappointment, anger, and distrust. Instead, these leaders will be motivated to include more subordinates as in-group members by showing them due respect and granting them more trust (Robbins & Judge, 2011). These actions help foster a good LMX relationship.

Further, among narcissistic traits, extraversion is an important aspect that increases the likelihood of a highly narcissistic individual being selected and accepted as a leader. Results of a meta-analysis by Grijalva et al. (2015) showed a high positive correlation between narcissism and extraversion, which suggested a high likelihood for narcissists to be leaders in organizations. In addition, narcissists are also confident, outgoing, and cheerful, at least at the outset of interpersonal relationships (Brunell et al., 2008). According to implicit leadership theory (Rush et al., 1977), as subordinates are likely to believe that narcissistic leaders' extraversion is matched with leadership effectiveness, the subordinates will view extrovert and narcissistic (vs. nonnarcissistic) leaders as more effective. Both a favorable evaluation of narcissistic leaders and their strong motivation to maintain a good relationship with their subordinates, help promote a good LMX relationship.

High trust, interaction, support, and formal and informal compensation characterize a good LMX relationship (Liden & Maslyn, 1998). In line with social exchange theory (Blau, 1964), Wayne et al. (2002) suggested that subordinates in a good LMX relationship tend to display more OCB-CH to reciprocate the extra resources obtained from the relationship. Further, higher LMX encourages subordinates to conduct innovative behavior that is not officially part of their job in the organization, but which is beneficial to organizational performance (Janssen & Van Yperen, 2004). Therefore, we proposed the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 2: Leader-member exchange will mediate the relationship between leader narcissism and subordinates' change-oriented organizational citizenship behavior.

Moderating Effect of Overall Justice

Employees' perception of overall justice represents their global evaluation of fairness in an entity (Ambrose & Schminke, 2009). Previous researchers' focus in organizational justice has been on distributive, procedural, and interpersonal justice that affect members' behavior and outcomes (Colquitt et al., 2001). However, Ambrose and Schminke (2009) showed that employees' perceived overall justice exerted the most immediate effects on their behavior and outcomes.

According to social exchange theory, the leader-subordinate relationship is maintained through positive reciprocity if they both perceive mutual benefits (Blau, 1964). High perceived organizational justice not only increases subordinates' commitment to the organization, but also affects their perception of organizational leaders and their job satisfaction (Colquitt et al., 2001). Specifically, high (vs. low) perceived overall justice allows subordinates to evaluate their leaders' performance more favorably.

In addition, subordinates are more likely to accept their leader's behavior toward, and performance evaluation of, them, if overall justice in an organization is perceived to be high. Narcissistic leaders tend to receive more positive performance evaluations by trained specialists (Brunell et al., 2008). Similarly, subordinates are likely to view their leaders more favorably and to try to maintain a positive relationship with them if they feel that they are being treated fairly. Further, when overall justice is perceived to be fair, this will mitigate, or will be believed to mitigate, potential negative consequences brought about by narcissistic leaders, reducing leader-subordinate conflict, and further contributing to an improved LMX. Therefore, we proposed the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 3: Subordinates' perceived overall justice will moderate the relationship between leader narcissism and leader-member exchange, such that the relationship will be positive and stronger when perceived overall justice is high (vs. low).



To test the hypotheses, we conducted a survey with members of the Republic of Korea army, comprising squadron leaders of the smallest units in four battalions, and the members of each squadron. A security review was carried out and ethical approval was obtained before the survey took place. Participation was entirely voluntary, and we informed participants that the study would not be used for any purpose other than for research. To ensure anonymity, we distributed the survey forms, including a cover letter describing the purpose of the study, namely, so that we can understand the relationship between leader narcissism and subordinates' behavior, to 170 pairs of squadron leaders and members in a sealed envelope with a researcher-assigned identification number. We received 158 pairs of usable responses (93% response rate).


The survey items, originally in English, were translated into Korean by two bilingual English-Korean researchers using the translation/back-translation method (Brislin, 1980). The squadron leaders' narcissism was rated by themselves (leaders), and perceived LMX, overall justice, and OCB-CH were rated by the squadron members (subordinates). All items were measured on a 7-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree).

Leader narcissism. Leaders assessed their narcissism using the 16-item NPI-16 scale (Ames et al., 2006). Sample items are "I like to be the center of attention," and "I think I am a special person."

Leader-member exchange. We measured leader-member exchange with an 11-item scale from Liden and Maslyn (1998). Sample items are "I like my supervisor very much as a person," and "My supervisor is the kind of person one would like to have as a friend."

Overall justice. We measured overall justice using the six-item scale from Ambrose and Schminke (2009). Sample items are "Overall, I'm treated fairly by my organization," and "Usually, the way things work in this organization are not fair" (reverse scored).

Change-oriented organizational citizenship behavior. We measured change-oriented organizational citizenship behavior with Choi's (2007) four-item scale. Sample items are "I frequently come up with new ideas or new work methods to perform my task," and "I often suggest work improvement ideas to others."

Control variables. Subordinates' age, education level, rank, and troop type were included in regression analysis to control for alternative explanations.


Descriptive statistics and correlations are set out in Table 1. The internal consistency of all measures was satisfactory.

We conducted hierarchical regression analysis to test our hypotheses. As shown in Model 4 in Table 2, leader narcissism was positively related to employees' OCB-CH. Hypothesis 1 was thus supported.

To test our hypothesis regarding the mediating role of LMX, we adopted Baron and Kenny's (1986) approach. We further used the Sobel test and bootstrapping to assess the significance of the indirect effect by following Hayes and Preacher's (2010) procedure. Leader narcissism was positively related to employees' OCB-CH (Model 4 in Table 2) and LMX (Model 2 in Table 2), thereby meeting the first two requirements of the mediation test. To test the third criterion, we regressed OCB-CH on LMX, and controlled for leader narcissism. As reported in Model 6 in Table 2, the beta coefficient for LMX was significant. As the effect of leader's narcissism was no longer significant, the full mediating effect of LMX was confirmed. The Sobel test and bootstrapping results are shown in Table 2. A two-tailed significance test demonstrated that the indirect effect was significant. The bootstrap results confirmed the Sobel test result. We estimated the 95% bias-corrected confidence interval (CI) with 10,000 bootstrapped samples to test for the indirect effect. In this study, the results for CI exclude zero. Thus, Hypothesis 2 was supported.

The results of Model 4 in Table 3 indicate that the coefficient for the interaction term was significantly positive. Further, as shown in Figure 2, leader narcissism was positively related to LMX only when subordinates' overall justice was high (simple slope t = 2.57, p < .05). When it was low, leader narcissism was not significantly related to LMX (simple slope t = .44, ns). Therefore, Hypothesis 3 was supported.


Our findings contribute to the literature on narcissism in three ways. First, we have drawn attention to the positive effects of leader narcissism on desirable organizational outcomes. Leader narcissism has previously been associated with negative outcomes, as narcissistic leaders lack compassion and are excessively sensitive to criticism from others (Campbell et al., 2011). However, as researchers have begun to find that narcissistic (vs. nonnarcissistic) leaders are more passionate, visionary, and innovative (Maccoby, 2000), it is evident that a bright and a dark side of narcissism may coexist (Hogan & Kaiser, 2005), depending on context, such as time or organizational conditions (Campbell & Campbell, 2009). We joined this stream of research by proposing a positive effect of leader narcissism on desirable organizational outcomes.

Second, our finding that LMX fully mediated the relationship between leader narcissism and subordinates' OCB-CH is consistent with Campbell and Foster's (2007) finding that narcissists know how to use interpersonal skills appropriately and to rely on others to enhance their self-esteem. Further, although they may lack warmth and intimacy in relationships, narcissists are often outgoing and entertaining (Oltmanns et al., 2004), socially skilled (Brunell et al., 2008), and highly energetic and confident (Watson & Biderman, 1994). Therefore, the characteristics of a narcissistic leader make subordinates feel that they have a good relationship with their leader.

Third, we extend existing research in our finding of the moderating effect of overall justice on the relationship between leader narcissism and LMX. Previous researchers focused on the moderating role played by a leader's individual-level characteristics (Owens et al., 2015) and peer relationship (Campbell et al., 2011) in influencing the relationship between leader and organizational outcomes. However, leaders and subordinates in an organization are both subject to the influence of organizational factors. We identified an organizational-level situational factor that affects the relationship between the leader and organizational outcomes. That is, leader narcissism had a positive effect on LMX only when overall justice was perceived by subordinates to be high. This suggests that the organizations' top executives and managers can take a more active role in fostering the organizational context, such as overall justice, to facilitate the mechanism through which leader narcissism influences LMX and subordinates' OCB-CH.

Despite the theoretical and practical implications we have outlined, there are limitations in this study. First, participants were soldiers serving in the Republic of Korea Army. We advise caution in generalizing the results to firms, because the characteristics and capability of army leaders may be different from those of leaders in other organizations (Paunonen et al., 2006). Future researchers can re-examine these relationships with participants employed in industries.

Second, we used cross-sectional data. However, over time, leader narcissism may exert either positive or negative effects on subordinates' OCB-CH. For example, narcissists may hold a positive attitude toward others when their relationship begins, but may develop a negative attitude as their interest in, and commitment to, the relationship decrease (Oltmanns et al., 2004). Thus, a longitudinal study is needed for the development of a more complete understanding of the relationships we examined in this study.


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Sun-Bok Ha (1), Soojin Lee (2), Gukdo Byun (3), Ye Dai (4)

(1) Military Art and Science Department, College of Law and Politics, Kyungnam University, Republic of Korea

(2) College of Business Administration, Chonnam National University, Republic of Korea

(3) School of Business, Chungbuk National University, Republic of Korea

(4) College of Business, Southern Illinois University, United States

How to cite: Ha, S.-B., Lee, S., Byun, G., & Dai, Y. (2020). Leader narcissism and subordinate change-oriented organizational citizenship behavior: Overall justice as a moderator. Social Behavior and Personality: An international journal, 48(7), e9330

CORRESPONDENCE Soojin Lee, College of Business Administration, Chonnam National University, 77 Yongbong-ro, Buk-gu Gwangju 61186, Republic of Korea. Email: or Gukdo Byun, School of Business, Chungbuk National University, 1 Chungdae-ro, Seowon-gu, Cheongju, Chungbuk 28644, Republic of Korea. Email:
Table 1. Descriptive Statistics and Correlations Among Study Variables

Variable              M      SD    1         2        3         4

1. Age                22.04  1.27
2. Education level     2.85  0.45   .07
3. Rank                2.51  0.87   .39(**)  -.17(*)
4. Troop type          2.54  1.03   .12      -.15      .10
5. Leader narcissism   4.49  0.94  -.03       .07     -.06      -.13
6. LMX                 5.17  1.16  -.06       .01      .01       .08
7. Overall justice     4.81  1.37  -.25(**)   .04     -.14      -.09
8. OCB-CH              4.67  1.18   .00       .06      .19 (*)   .00

Variable              5         6        7        8

1. Age
2. Education level
3. Rank
4. Troop type
5. Leader narcissism  (.92)
6. LMX                 .19(*)   (.95)
7. Overall justice     .21(**)  .39(**)  (.93)
8. OCB-CH              .20(*)   .40(**)  .29(**)  (.90)

Note. N = 158. LMX = leader-member exchange, OCB-CH = change-oriented
organizational citizenship behavior.
Education coded as 1 = Lower than high school graduation; 2 = High
school graduation; 3 = In college; 4 = Junior college graduation; 5 =
College graduates and above. Rank coded as 1 = Private second class; 2
= Private first class; 3 = Corporal; 4 = Sergeant; 5 = Staff sergeant
and above. Troop type coded as 1 = Infantry; 2 = Artillery; 3 =
Military engineer; 4 = Military communications. Reliabilities are in
parentheses on the diagonal.
(*) p < .05, (**) p < .01, (***) p < .001, two-tailed.

Table 2. Simple Mediation Test Results for Leader-Member Exchange

                     Mediator                    Subordinates' outcome
                     LMX                         OCB-CH
                     Model 1  Model 2  Model 3   Model 4   Model 5

Control variables
Age                  -.09     -.09     -.11      -.11      -.07
Education level       .04      .03      .11      .10       .09
Rank                  .04      .05      .25(**)  .26(**)   .27
Troop type            .09      .12      .01      .03       -.02
Main effects
Leader narcissism              .20(*)            .21(**)   .13
LMX                                                        .37(***)
Overall F            0.55     1.71     2.14      3.17(**)  7.32(***)
[R.sup.2]             .01      .05      .05      .09       .22
Change in F                   6.29(*)            6.97(**)  25.51(***)
Change in [R.sup.2]            .04               .04       .13

Note. N = 158. LMX = leader-member exchange, OCB-CH = change-oriented
organizational citizenship behavior, CI = confidence interval.
Entries are standardized regression coefficients. Bootstrap sample size
= 10,000.
(*) p < .05, (**) p < .01, (***) p < .001, two-tailed.

Table 3. Hierarchical Regression Results for Moderating Effect of
Overall Justice

                     Model 1  Model 2  Model 3     Model 4

Control variables
Age                  -.09     -.09     -.01        .01
Education level      .04      .03      .05         .05
Rank                 .04      .05      .07         .03
Troop type           .09      .12      .13         .13
Main effect
Leader narcissism             .20(*)   .12         .16
Overall justice                        .38(***)    .41(***)
Interaction effect
Leader narcissism *
Overall justice                                    .25(**)
Overall F            0.55     1.71     5.61(***)   6.82(***)
[R.sup.2]            .01      .05      .18         .24
Change in F                   6.29(*)  23.82(***)  11.70(**)
Change in [R.sup.2]           .04      .13         .06

Note. N = 158. LMX = leader-member exchange. Entries are standardized
regression coefficients.
(*) p < .05, (**) p < .01, (***) p < .001, two-tailed.
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Author:Ha, Sun-Bok; Lee, Soojin; Byun, Gukdo; Dai, Ye
Publication:Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal
Geographic Code:9SOUT
Date:Jul 1, 2020
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