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narcissistWant Less Narcissistic Grads? Hire Less Narcissistic Professors

We’ve all heard the stereotypes. MBAs are insulated, entitled, and snooty. They believe that reading cases studies and mastering models automatically makes them experts. To them, a degree gives them immunity from questions (or input).

Alas, stereotypes often stem from a few people embodying the worst excesses. Still, the image of the MBA, self-involved and lacking in self-awareness, is embedded in business lore. But is this depiction accurate? If you believe a 2010 study from Appalachian State, business school students scored higher in narcissism than many other majors. Mind you, this study brings up the proverbial chicken-or-the-egg argument: Do MBA programs attract or nurture the vain? Regardless, it gives ammunition to critics who paint business schools as a breeding ground for wild-eyed self-importance.

Now, these same Appalachian State researchers, led by Jim Westerman, are back to further feed this theme. This time, they’ve identified a new culprit: business school professors. Sure, assailing academics ranks up there with bashing bad bosses and MBAs for American recreation. But these researchers have an interesting premise according to Bloomberg Businessweek:

“…Westerman and his colleagues collected a survey called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory from 536 students and 16 instructors at a public university in the southeastern U.S. They cross-referenced the results with the final grades and students’ subjective assessments of instructors and courses. It turned out that those students who scored more highly on the narcissism test got better grades in courses taught by highly narcissistic professors. Students with lower narcissism scores got lower grades and found courses taught by narcissists more difficult.”

To borrow a cliché, their research can be summed up as “birds of a feather flock together.” According to Westerman and his researchers, these “narcissistic” professors “discouraged less narcissistic students, yet rewarded and provided a potential model for future behavior for more highly narcissistic students through their enhanced status.” Wow! You’d almost expect them to borrow liberal arts vernacular like “paradigm” or “victimization.”

So how would these researchers fix this growing epidemic? Well, awareness is a first step. “Business schools have a social responsibility to address (student narcissism),” Westerman says. “This research suggests a potential tool that’s right in front of them.” And that tool? According to a previous essay from these researchers in Bloomberg Businessweek, the answer lies in screening out narcissists with personality tests, both in the student and faculty ranks (as if traits can be as easily measured as aptitude). Of course, there are the usual prescriptions: Greater exposure to others through internships and studying abroad; regular feedback from peers; and (of course) “empathy.”

In other words, they seek to enroll and hire only those people with the “right” beliefs and temperaments. Bet you can’t wait to see those MBAs head out into the real world, huh? It just makes you wonder if these solutions are a reflection of naiveté … or narcissism itself?

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek

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