IT Alumnus, Bill Wales, Publishes Research on CEO Narcissism

Bill Wales, IT Alumnus class of 2004, and former president of GNH, recently published an article entitled “In Pursuit of Greatness: CEONarcissism, Entrepreneurial Orientation, and Firm Performance Variance” in the Journal of Management Studies, as quoted on Bill, now a professor of management at James Madison University, has been studying corporate entrepreneurship for several years and recently linked narcissistic CEOs to an increase in firm entrepreneurial behavior.

With greater narcissism, individuals tend to have increasingly inflated, commonly unrealistic, views of their own self-importance. Yet, these self-perceptions are generally fragile, and maintaining them demands continuous external self-affirmation from others. In organizational leadership roles, narcissists are therefore concerned with actions that draw attention to themselves, inspire awe and adoration among followers, and have the possibility of leaving behind an admirable legacy of achievement. The recent research of Wales and colleagues observes that narcissistic CEOs tend to lead companies which exhibit more entrepreneurial behavior—that is, companies which pursue more lofty innovation, take more significant risks, and undertake new ventures well before their competition. Their research demonstrates that when given the reigns of companies, narcissists will pursue more entrepreneurial, or high-risk, high-reward agendas as they are concerned foremost with company actions which have the greatest potential to return them positive accolades for their leadership. Highly entrepreneurial actions which ‘swing for the fences’ have greater potential to generate such buzz, adoration, and achievement. However, as not all entrepreneurial endeavors will be successful, particularly when they involve taking big gambles on pioneering innovations, companies led by narcissistic CEOs ultimately tend to experience both ‘bigger wins and bigger losses’ as they push their organizations to be more entrepreneurial in the pursuit of their own greatness.

In addition to discussing his research, Bill also reflected on his time spent at RPI, commenting that he “puts his IT degree to work almost every day” and looks fondly back at his time within the IT program—particularly time spent in courses such as data structures and algorithms, which thought key lessons about “problem solving and seeking both efficiency and elegance in any solution”.

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