Narcissism as a global barrier to education for sustainable development


  • Dr Meg Milligan Troy University, United States
  • Dr John Mankelwicz Troy University, United States
  • Hoon Peow See Berjaya University College, Malaysia



Narcissism, Leadership, Sustainable development, Institutional sustainability


Narcissism, extreme self-interest, refers to a set of personality characteristics including arrogance, self-centeredness, need for admiration, sense of entitlement, grandiosity, lack of empathy, and interpersonal exploitation, which can range from normal to a diagnosable mental disorder, narcissistic personality disorder. Narcissism, deriving from the Greek myth of Narcissus who fell in love with his reflection in a pool of water which led to his demise, is part of our human nature and is associated with aggressive behaviour, conflict and war, counterproductive work behaviour, “bad” leadership, and weaker environmental ethics. Evidence suggests that individual and collective narcissism is increasing worldwide. Correspondingly, individualism is increasing while collectivism is declining. Furthermore, leadership attracts narcissists with its allure of power and prestige, who then affect their organisations’ performance, and those higher in narcissism tend to attain higher leadership levels. These trends are increasingly problematic as our world shifts toward greater interdependence. Add the challenges of narcissism with its corresponding threats to sustainable institutions to the challenges of sustainable development, “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987: 43), and this identifies an overlooked barrier to education for sustainable development. We developed a testable model to address this barrier. Since the determining factors for institutional sustainability are generated largely by activities of specific teams, departments, and task forces, our framework stresses interactions at the group level in education systems. This model presents seven sets of impacts of a narcissistic leader’s actions upon the outcomes for her or his group, generates fourteen propositions, and outlines research strategies.


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How to Cite

Milligan, M., Mankelwicz, J. M. ., & See, H. P. (2022). Narcissism as a global barrier to education for sustainable development. Perspectives in Education, 40(3), 29–46.