Student Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

Fall 12-16-2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Program of Study

Communication - Corporate Communication



First Advisor

Minna Logemann

Second Advisor

Michael Bayer

Third Advisor

Caryn Medved


CEOs are in a unique position of power and can significantly change an organization's overall work culture, global financial standing, policies/governance, and reputation. As such, the CEO must exemplify good stewardship, implement sound strategies to communicate effectively with internal and external stakeholders, consider different perspectives, and maintain respect for others' skill sets and expertise. For decades, corporations have focused on this ideal picture of leadership. It is essential to understand how the leadership traits once venerated have changed to include the darker side of a CEO's personality, specifically, the embodiment of narcissistic traits that prove detrimental to the organization's performance and ability to retain talent.

This study explored various definitions of narcissism and narcissistic traits by clinical and non-clinical researchers with the aim of drawing research attention to narcissistic traits and connections between the insights of clinical and non-clinical research regarding narcissism/narcissistic CEOs. The three key findings obtained from this research are as follows: First, to ensure the effectiveness and accuracy of studies pertaining to narcissistic CEOs, a consensus regarding the definition of narcissism is needed. Second, existing studies conducted on narcissistic CEOs are leadership-centric and overlook the employee’s perspective, which is necessary to obtain a holistic view. Third, clinical and non-clinical researchers bring value to the study of narcissistic traits in leadership. Collaboration between individuals in clinical and non-clinical roles would marry the perspectives to create the big picture.


I will explore the various definitions of narcissism and narcissistic traits by clinical and non-clinical researchers, referencing secondary data on existing research such as publicly available interviews, peer reviewed research articles, multi-media, and clinical diagnosis/criteria of narcissism. I will examine the possible misuse of the term narcissism and the flaws in methodology utilized for measuring narcissism. I will then present a case study, focusing on Elon Musk, world renowned innovator, ‘futurist,’ and industry leader. I hope to shed light on the importance of understanding the potential impact narcissistic traits bear on communication within an organization, the general public, and stakeholders.



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