Good Politicians Are Bad at Running the Country
It you want to be more than a state level politicians, you need to be really good at fundraising, public speaking, and smiling into a camera. Unfortunately, those abilities don’t make you better at running the country, and that mismatch between the skills needed to get the job and the skills needed to do the job is a serious problem that leads to sub-optimal governing. Imagine if in order to play quarterback for the Dolphins you needed to be a scratch golfer and speak French. The team probably wouldn’t end up with very many good quarterbacks, yet we essentially follow the same protocol when choosing politicians.
Thus far the only good news was that the qualities needed to be a high level politician were neutral. Being good looking won’t make you a better president, but it won’t make you worse at the job. Unfortunately, a recent study in Psychological Science shows that narcissism, a trait possessed by numerous politicians, makes people think you are a better leader but actually makes you worse at leading.
Despite people’s positive perceptions of narcissists as leaders, it was previously unknown if and how leaders’ narcissism is related to the performance of the people they lead. In this study, we used a hidden-profile paradigm to investigate this question and found evidence for discordance between the positive image of narcissists as leaders and the reality of group performance. We hypothesized and found that although narcissistic leaders are perceived as effective because of their displays of authority, a leader’s narcissism actually inhibits information exchange between group members and thereby negatively affects group performance.
Given the total shamockery that the Republican debates have become, you’d think that somebody (the media, the political parties) would be trying something (anything!) to better align the skills needed to become president and the skills required to do the job. Maybe instead of standard debate questions candidates could describe their response to some fictional and apolitical ethical or moral dilemma. Letting Americans see a candidate’s judgment outside the political sphere would at least give them more information than the slew of talking points and unrealistic proposals they get now.
The point is that the tendency for good politicians to make bad leaders only seems to be worsening with the infusion of money and media into politics, and therefore it seems like a good idea for people to start thinking about ways to reverse the trend.
Nevicka B, Ten Velden FS, De Hoogh AH, & Van Vianen AE (2011). Reality at odds with perceptions: narcissistic leaders and group performance. Psychological science, 22 (10), 1259-64 PMID: 21931153