The title is bold. I am fearless and guiltless to make this admission. Regardless of this acceptance and acknowledgment, the endeavour here would be to dispassionately determine if managers/ leaders should or shouldn’t be narcissists, if not entirely, at least,partially.
No love is more superior than the love for oneself. We all love ourselves first. It comes naturally to each of us, to admire ourselves, endlessly. To do that is love and admiration, there is no need for a compelling or even an ordinary reason. Love for oneself is possibly the only type of love that has no pre-conditions attached to it. Since such love requires no external sanction or endorsement, we love ourselves with great passion and intensity.
It is not only the great and handsome Mr Narcissus , in the first century story, mentioned in the Roman poet, Ovid’s Metamorphosis (Book 3), who looked into the pond and fell instantaneously in love with his reflection. But the reality is that all of us have a pool or a pond of our own, where we stare deeply with all the reservoir of affection having been emptied into it and hence believe to see only goodness, that needs to be ‘loved deeply’. In doing so almost all of us suffer from the major affliction of delusional mindset and behaviour. Every pond is not the same , in terms of size , dimension, depth or even in relation to it being clean and pure. Our respective ponds have no crystal clear waters ; instead they sometimes have all or some of the filth , murkiness just like Algae or moss, with an occasional lotus lying clustered in the entangling weeds and surrounded by the mire of misdeeds and ill character.
The nymph echo was cursed by gods to hear only the sounds made by others. The handsome narcissus having spurred the potential lovers, all beautiful, was condemned to fall in love with himself after he rejected echo’s advances and propositions. Because Narcissus represented love he could receive no love as a payback , he is filled, then with regret, remorse and ultimately dies, lonely and loveless.
If a leader hates or dislikes then it would be impossible to get followers to like him or herself. Every leader finds alternative routes to achieve the same, that is, self love. The uncontrollable love for oneself, has many misnomers in full attendance like, self esteem, self worth, self respect, self regard, etc (These terms are illusory, meant to mask the narcissist in us). This type of love in extreme cases finds reflection and expression through pride and arrogance.
In the field of politics the rarely famous for the right reasons remain also in extreme love with themselves. With this belief ( read misbelief), the politician is convinced that he/she is the best, in every respect. The quality of charisma is another word for self love. Nature bestows charisma to a handful only, the rest have charisma developed by deliberate efforts. If a leader is not as handsome as John F Kennedy they have to develop alternative skills, to attract attention and love of the masses; Hitler and Mussolini, possessed no charming looks, hence they used “terror” to get the masses to love them. While the Masses secretly hated them the two never fell short in excessively approving of themselves. Most tyrants, despots and usurpers are the best portrayals of what self love means.
Do leaders necessarily have to be narcissists? The answer can’t be a cut and dried, yes or no. It is an element, necessary, but not all the time, to be present in the personality of all types of leaders. In the arena of the corporate universe, being a narcissist can be handy and useful, to some degree.
Narcissism in work life is not necessarily a reflection of any pathological self absorption or mental disorder. Sigmund Freud, rightly says, narcissism is complement to the egoism of the instinct of self preservation. The drive to stand against hot winds, the energy to face new challenges, more often than not demand a narcissistic approach. Unfortunately, in isolation, narcissistic personality is seen as a personality disorder; it can be positive if the emotion is restrained and kept in good check. If the self love is to the peril of the environment or the entity, only then it can be proven to be fatal; otherwise for pursuit of a cause, loving one’s own attitude, belief and axioms of life is not unworthy. All great corporate leaders reflect in their personalities some measure of being narcissists.
Most narcissists have ego, which is not at all a bad thing per se, it can be only when it is inflated and beyond control, then it acquires negativity. To be devoid of ego, as a leader is to be like a lion who’s shepherded, as a lamb, by the environment. There is nothing wrong to seek attention centre stage and spotlight if one has to drive the work force towards achieving unity of thought and action.
All leaders and CEO’s subscribe to transactional relationships with their followers and colleagues , respectively — that is a narcissistic quality; love is on offer, but is mostly conditional and by the same token progressions is on offer, if the results or the subscription, to the leaders vision, is amply demonstrated.
It is generally believed that a narcissist leader/CEO is normally devoid and shunned of empathy — not true. A narcissistic leader can also be very helpful, sensitive and caring but it may be seen as an act motivated from outside the ambit of empathy merely because the perception is that of being a narcissist.
Healthy narcissism helps promote the well-being of all, such environments have low levels of anxiety and depression . Positive narcissism enables individuals to have the confidence and self belief to succeed in the most difficult of circumstances. Author Amy Morin says, narcissists at work place pride in sharing their success story which can be motivational; they take big risks and strongly believe in themselves; rejection or frustration is not an acceptable deterrent.
In a Stanford University study led by Bryan Tayan , the conclusive paragraph reads, ‘in aggregate, we find an unexpected relationship between CEO’s narcissism and corporate performance. While stock price returns are materially worse for companies with narcissistic CEOs, other attributes are more favourable or neutral. Both ESG and governance quality appears to be higher among firms with narcissistic CEO’s. The meaning of this result is open to interpretation’. Managed narcissism is acceptable.
If unmanageable, narcissism certainly has potential to create dominance, hostility and arrogance in the work culture. The healthier narcistic behaviour can yield good leadership. Many Neuroscientists have acknowledged that, in spite of the several negativities attached to the concept of narcissism at the workplace, these individuals can be very successful — they exhibit charisma, extreme self confidence and the indomitable spirit of taking on risks and challenges of the marketplace.
I recall reading somewhere about “humble narcissist!”. They are individuals who possess remarkably bold vision, are always willing to acknowledge their faults, weaknesses and inadequacies and equally want to learn from the mistakes of self and others.
The attributes required for a CEO are seen in great quantum to be in semblance with those of the narcissist; these traits contribute to workplace development — like self confidence, risk tolerance, focus on goal achievement and more extraverted personalities. While there is strong evidence that narcissists share observable attributes such as confidence, dynamism or transformational skills, many management scientists do not think that the personalities are synonymous. This scribe feels that healthy narcism helps achieve corporate goals.
– The writer is a senior Banker and a freelance columnist