Everyone I talk with is familiar with the narcissistic type leader, but not many people understand precisely how the term can apply in both a positive and a negative sense. Mostly the term is bandied about to describe all sorts of negative and destructive behaviors. I think we can explore how productive narcissistic personalities help organizations and in some cases, may be an effective leadership personality for future challenges.
A good book to read in order to understand this concept is Michael Maccoby in Narcissistic Leaders: Who Succeeds and Who Fails (Crown Business, 2012).
“Narcissists” are driven by the need to be unique, express their creativity and achieve greatness, and they’re readily spotted in leadership positions. The term carries a negative connotation, but it was originally meant to be descriptive (neither good nor bad). A narcissist can be productive (or not) and moral (or not). We often misuse the term, applying it to leaders who are egocentric, greedy, self-aggrandizing, and of little benefit to their organizations and colleagues. A productive narcissist may be viewed as a visionary leader.
Narcissists’ need to achieve greatness overrides everything else. They seldom listen to others and often show little interest in their coworkers (except for those who can help them get what they want). Few social controls are built into their mental model of how the world works. They aren’t worried about conscience or losing others’ love or respect, and they don’t bend to peer pressure or what the public wants. The narcissist has few internal demands to do the right thing. He answers to himself as to what is right, decides what he values and determines what gives him a sense of meaning.
While the other personality types (obsessives, erotics, marketing types) are deeply motivated to do whatever it takes to maintain their sense of security, narcissists never garner security from relationships or skills. Rather, they recruit people to join them in their worldview.
There’s a case to be made for narcissistic CEOs who can lead companies to greatness, inspire followers and achieve game-changing solutions in our rapidly changing world.
“It is narcissistic leaders who take us to places we’ve never been before, who innovate, who build empires out of nothing.” ~ Michael Maccoby, Narcissistic Leaders: Who Succeeds and Who Fails (Crown Business, 2012).