It’s all about me! How narcissism affects mentoring relationships

concept of leadership & authority - big fish leading small fishes. This abstract vector graphic also represents concepts like trust responsibility duty command control power dominance influence

Allen, T. D., Johnson, H., Rodopman, O. B., Ottinot, R. C., & Biga, A. (2009). Mentoring and protégé narcissistic entitlement. Journal of Career Development, 35, 385-405


There has been relatively little research incorporating personality into the study of mentoring. Yet because personality characteristics influence individual behavior, as well as interpersonal interactions, they likely play a role in the effectiveness of mentoring relationships (Turban & Lee, 2007).   The objective of the Mentoring and Protégé Narcissistic Entitlement study is to address this gap in the literature by examining the role of protégé  (mentee) narcissistic entitlement (NE) in the context of mentoring relationships.

Background – What is narcissism entitlement (NE)?

Narcissistic entitlement (NE) refers to a dis-positional variable that reflects preoccupation with the expectation of special and preferential treatment from others.  Narcissism involves the admiration of the self and the belief that one merits a special place in the world. It reflects a syndrome of relatively diverse behaviors (Raskin & Terry, 1988). Specifically, individuals high in narcissism are grandiose, believe they are unique, are hypersensitive to criticism, lack empathy for others, are exploitative, and are absorbed with fantasies of personal greatness and power (American Psychiatric Association, 1994;Campbell, 1999). Additionally, individuals high in narcissism are motivated to establish their superiority over others (Bushman & Baumeister, 1998). It is important to note that this present study investigates narcissism associated traits rather than a clinically diagnosed personality disorder.

How does NE influence career mentoring for youth?

Individuals with narcissistic tendencies enter relationships in the service of their own self-enhancement. They have difficulty establishing true intimacy with others because of a fear of abandonment and the need to derive self-enhancement through their interpersonal relationships. Finally, individuals high in narcissism seek admiration from their relationship partners and associate the self with idealized others. Because mentoring is a relational experience that inspires mutual growth, learning, and career development, it seems likely that individuals with NE tendencies will have difficulty realizing the full potential of what a mentoring relationship has to offer. As noted by Turban and Lee (2007), personality may be relevant to who is more or less likely to enter into a mentoring relationship as well as to outcomes associated with the relationship


Data were collected via an online survey.  Doctoral program alumni from a single industrial and organizational psychology program were contacted and asked to participate and to forward the link to other colleagues.  A total of 253 individuals responded to the survey and of the 253, 132 had experience as a mentee. Four items from the narcissistic entitlement dimension of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI; Raskin & Terry, 1988) were used (e.g., ‘‘I insist on getting the respect that is due to me.’’). Responses were made on a 5-point scale that ranged from ‘‘strongly disagree’’ to ‘‘strongly agree.’’ Responses to the items were averaged and higher scores indicated greater narcissistic entitlement.

Mentee experiences were explored through the survey, including relationship duration, support, experience, commitment and overall quality.


Mentoring relationships involving mentees with higher NE were shorter in duration than were mentorships involving mentees lower in NE.  Likewise, mentees scoring higher in NE reported less careers support and more negative mentoring experiences than did mentees lower in NE.


The findings have several implications.  Individuals are almost universally advised to seek out mentoring relationships as a form of career development and heralded with information regarding the many benefits of such relationships. However, little guidance is provided regarding the possible pitfalls associated with mentoring and the role that the individual plays in determining the course and quality of the relationship. Potential mentees (and mentors) should be reminded that some mentoring relationships may be mutually beneficial and fulfilling whereas others may be fraught with interpersonal difficulties.

It may be fruitful for supervisors to discuss behaviors associated with narcissism so that individuals may recognize those in him or herself and take corrective action as well as recognize them in others and consequently avoid forming a mentorship with such individuals.