Distorted-Face of Narcissistic Leadership– Quintessential Pro, Desperate Con: Jekyll-Hyde Behavior of Narcissism…

One of Steve Jobs’ great accomplishment; putting his– petulance, narcissism, rudeness, idiosyncrasies… in the service of perfection. ~Malcolm Gladwell

When you say; he/she is a ‘narcissist’- just what does that mean? People throw around the terms– narcissist, narcissism and many don’t have the vaguest idea of what the words really mean. So what is a narcissist and narcissism? According to one definition; people with narcissistic personality believe that they’re superior to others and have little regard for other people’s feelings… But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism…

Narcissistic leadership is a common form of leadership. To critics, narcissistic leaders are driven by unyielding arrogance, self-absorption, and a personal egotistic need for power and admiration. To proponents, all people, especially leaders, need a healthy dose of narcissism…it’s the engine that drives leadership.

Narcissists have the need to uphold and maintain a false self – a concocted, grandiose, and demanding psychological construct typical of the narcissistic personality disorder. The false self is projected to the world in order to garner their– narcissistic supply, i.e., adulation, admiration, or even notoriety and infamy.

Any kind of attention is usually deemed to be preferable to obscurity. For example, cooked books, corporate fraud, bending the (GAAP or other) rules, sweeping problems under the carpet, over-promising, making grandiose claims (the ‘vision thing’)– are hallmarks of a narcissist in action…

In the article The Narcissistic Leader by Michael Maccoby writes:  Narcissism gets a bad rap. Far from being the malignant personality disorder most people believe it to be, it’s actually an essential quality for visionary business leaders. The popular misconceptions is that narcissism is ‘synonymous with self-absorption, egocentricity or just bad manners’, instead ‘a true narcissist is the kind of person who (1) doesn’t listen to anyone else when he/she believes in doing something and (2) has a precise vision of how things should be.’

Of course, simply possessing these two qualities are hardly sufficient for business success without basic strategic intelligence, which is essential. Strategic intelligence is made up of five major elements: foresight, systems thinking, visioning, motivating and partnering.  Many personalities and styles work, and a wise leader will play to personal strengths, and balance weaknesses by effective partnerships with colleagues.

Narcissistic leaders are classic ‘good news, bad news’ for companies who have them. On one hand, narcissists  have the ability to envision new directions for a company, the courage and self-belief to make changes, and the navigational skills to chart the course; assuming that they possess the strategic intelligence that makes them productive. Bad news, of course, is that these same qualities of vision and self-belief make them difficult to work with, impervious to advice, and even deluded.

Narcissists aren’t more effective as business leaders than other personality types. Different leadership tasks, different industries, and different social and economic circumstances favor some types of personality over others; and, in these times, today, it suits the narcissistic personality better than ever before…

In the article Narcissist: Good Leader, Bad Teammate? by Adi Gaskell writes:  Narcissists typically have many of the qualities we associate with those of a strong leader. They have high self-esteem, confidence, and display authority. Research reveals that narcissists automatically take over the helm of a rudderless group of individuals. Research from Cornell University, for instance, reveals that more than one narcissist in a group damages performance of that group, as the two stags battle it out for top status. If they performed on their own, however, research showed that they were perceived to perform better by onlookers, due no doubt to their confidence and self belief. However, when their output was measured objectively, without knowing who had produced it, it was found to be of lesser quality than less narcissistic people in the team.

Further research supports these findings. A study published recently in Psychological Science looked at information flow within a team and the effect of this on decision-making. Interestingly, similar gap between perception and reality exist in regard to communication effectiveness as was observed in the previous study. In the second study, just as in the first, onlookers believed that more information was shared by the narcissistic leader.

Those in the group actually thought that the charismatic leaders were doing a great job. The reality, however, was that they were not. Information sharing was less than in groups led by non-narcissistic leaders, with end result being poor decision generated by the narcissist led group. So the message seems to be that narcissistic leaders are great at pulling the wool over our eyes, but not so great at delivering the results their bravado suggests…

In the article The Workplace Narcissist by James Adonis writes:  A narcissist, they say, is probably a narcissist for life.  It can be your boss, colleague, or employee. But since many narcissists use their charisma to fulfill their obsession for career success, they’re usually found in upper echelons of the corporate hierarchy.

Professor Keith Campbell, University of Georgia, author of ‘The Narcissism Epidemic’, says; main difference between narcissism in bosses compared with narcissism in colleagues is the issue of power. In both cases, I would suggest maintaining the best boundaries you can… Do not be overly trusting, keep records of interactions, temper your feedback so that the narcissist does not get overly reactive– and find better co-workers at the soonest opportunity.

However, this advice is especially relevant with the narcissistic boss. The three words; temper-your-feedback are important because giving a narcissist feedback can sometimes make the problem worse. In a study of over 100 CEOs conducted by researchers at Pennsylvania State University found that narcissistic bosses were more likely to engage in risky strategies. Why? Because of the need for visibility: After all, the more daring their vision and strategy, higher their chances for attention. They desperately want to be noticed– not necessarily adored, but noticed.

An analysis by Florida State University concluded, unsurprisingly, that workplaces with narcissistic people have lower levels of job satisfaction and productivity, and greater amounts of stress. Approximately one per cent of the population can be diagnosed with narcissism; the curious thing: it’s more prevalent in men than in women. But women are catching up.

Psychology professors Jean Twenge and Josh Foster have calculated that growth in narcissism since 2002 has been stronger among women than men. In study by psychologists, University of Michigan; they discovered that narcissists are more prone to health problems, particularly hypertension and heart disease, because they’re always so aggressive…

In the article Narcissists Look Like Good Leaders. But Are They? by Matthew Philip writes: Apparently, we’ve been duped. While narcissists may look like better leaders, according to a new study by a group of psychology researchers, University of Amsterdam, they’re actually really bad at leading. Here’s study abstract: Although generally perceived as arrogant, overly dominant, narcissistics are particularly skilled at radiating image of prototypically effective leader.

As a result, they tend to emerge as leaders in group settings. Despite people’s positive perceptions of narcissists as leaders, it was thus far unknown if and how leaders’ narcissism is related to the actual performance of those they lead. In the study we used a hidden profile paradigm to provide evidence for discord between positive image of narcissists as leaders and the reality in terms of group performance.

We proposed and found that although narcissistic leaders are perceived as effective due to their display of authority, leaders’ narcissism actually inhibits information exchange between group members and thereby negatively affects group performance. Findings indicate perception and reality can be at odds, which has important practical and theoretical implications…

In the article Nip Narcissism Before It Nips You by ExecuLeaders writes  Self-awareness can break destructive pattern of narcissism, one of the most common characteristics of high achievers, says a top gun on leadership. Narcissism is both creative and destructive force. It can drive corporate success when leaders blend their own search for self-improvement with improvement of their companies’ performance.

But it also can run amok and cause corporate meltdowns. A clinically recognized disorder, narcissism is a pathological reaction to problems with self-worth, says Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries. It shows up in the need to prove that you’re special and entitled to special treatment. Other traits: selfishness, lack of empathy, enviousness, exploitation and a need for constant attention.

Narcissists feel that rules apply only to others, which may be contagious and encourage an entire organization to take the low road. Narcissists may throw tantrums, which will drive away stable business partners and clients. Those who remain will tell narcissistic leaders what they want to hear. Quite a few leaders in the ancient world came to believe they were gods…

Narcissists bring plusses and minuses to their roles as leaders, says Michael Maccoby. On the plus side, they bring great vision, an ability to see the big picture and, as a result, the opportunity to change very rules of the game. They are also especially gifted in attracting followers, usually through skillful use of language and their charisma… On the minus side, narcissistic leaders can be poor listeners, sensitive to criticism, lacking in empathy and relentless and ruthless in the pursuit of victory.

According to Maccoby; to be productive leaders, narcissists must recognize their potential shortcomings and work to avoid traps of their own personalities… Narcissus was the very handsome fellow in Greek mythology who, because of his indifference and disdain toward others, was punished by the gods by falling in love with his own image. He was so enraptured by his beauty that he was unable to pull himself away from his own reflection; wasted away and died.

According to recent research, Narcissus has spawned many offspring in our current generation, and narcissism is alive and well. One study found that 30% of young people were classified as narcissistic, according to a widely used psychological test. That number has doubled in the last 30 years. Another study reported a 40% decline among young people with empathy, a personality attribute inversely related to narcissism, since the 1980s.

According to Dr. Jim Taylor; these findings aren’t surprising to anyone who pays attention to ‘it’s all about me’ culture, in which we currently live.  Certainly, shift in societal values have contributed to the cultural messages of narcissism in which young people are presently immersed. It’s one thing to see that there is a growing number of narcissists, however, the real concern is not the individual narcissists among us; but, when our society embraces and accepts narcissism as the norm.

The indifference, egotism, disrespect and lack of consideration that are central to narcissism are also reflective of increasingly polarized and vitriolic tone of current body politic, unethical corporate behavior, rise in cheating among students, and gamut of bad behavior among professional athletes…

As Pogo noted: We have met enemy, and he is us. This is definitely not a rosy picture, and definitely not an optimistic view of future...  Narcissists want power; they are egotistical… usually charming, extraverted… but, they don’t necessarily make better leaders.