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Narcissism, Over-Optimism, Fear, Anger, and Depression: The Interior Lives of Corporate Leaders

Jayne W. Barnard

William & Mary Law School


University of Cincinnati Law Review, 2008
William & Mary Law School Research Paper No. 08-10

The downfall of corporations can often be traced to the personality traits of top corporate leaders. This article examines five such traits, and finds them in abundance in both successful and failed leaders. After looking at the evidence in the lives of recent CEOs - Bill Gates, Jack Welch, Michael Eisner, Martha Stewart, Sandy Weill, Carly Fiorina, and Conrad Black, among others - the article surveys the consequences of these traits in a business environment. Four of the five traits (the exception is depression) may have positive consequences for an organization. All five of them may generate very harmful consequences. These include hyper-deference, reluctance to provide truthful information to the boss, bullying and intimidation up and down the chain of command, and constantly-shifting corporate priorities. These problems may be compounded when the CEO suffers multiple pathologies (e.g., a CEO who is narcissistic, over-optimistic, and angry). Problems may also arise when multiple leaders reinforce each other's pathologies. The article concludes with some prescriptions for board action.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 26

Keywords: Chief Executive Officers, Narcissism, Over-Optimism, Corporate Governance

JEL Classification: G30, G34, M14

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Date posted: May 26, 2008 ; Last revised: June 30, 2010

Suggested Citation

Barnard, Jayne W., Narcissism, Over-Optimism, Fear, Anger, and Depression: The Interior Lives of Corporate Leaders (2008). University of Cincinnati Law Review, 2008; William & Mary Law School Research Paper No. 08-10. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1136888

Contact Information

Jayne W. Barnard (Contact Author)
William & Mary Law School ( email )
South Henry Street
P.O. Box 8795
Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795
United States
(757) 221-3849 (Phone)
(757) 221-3261 (Fax)
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