Wednesday, May 23, 2020

Who is the highest flier of them all?

Is egotism necessary to achieving leadership?

Most high fliers are self-confident and have plenty of self-esteem. When they look in the mirror, they like what they see. It’s assumed that people with low levels of self-esteem rarely make it to the top. They won’t take the risks needed; the bold, opportunistic decisions that bring personal and organizational success. Maybe. But sometimes, self-confidence definitely goes too far.

Narcissism is egotism gone mad. It puts the self first and anyone and everything else a long way behind. Everyone must recognize the narcissist’s superiority. No one must challenge or question it. While a healthy degree of self-confidence is seen by many as a necessary attribute in achieving success, narcissism takes egotism and self-confidence to an extreme degree.

The Ancient Greek myth of Narcissus is a warning of what happens when self-esteem gets out of control. Narcissus was a beautiful young man who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool and ended up being turned into a bunch of flowers, forever gazing at their beauty in the water below.

It used to be only dictators who made themselves into crazed narcissists, stomping around in Ruritanian uniforms surrounded by sycophantic toadies, like Charlie Chaplin in “The Great Dictator.” Historically, some became simple figures of derision. Most added viciousness and cruelty to their delusions and brought death and shame on their countries.

Recent history has shown many instances of CEOs and other top executives who clearly suffer from narcissism. They’re so obsessed with their own importance that only constant adulation from colleagues, and continual media attention, can satisfy them. They’re obsessed with being seen as superior. They exaggerate their abilities and ignore the contributions of others. A few are quite ready to use lies, creative accounting, and criminal acts to try to make reality fit the demands of their colossal egos.

Sadly, narcissism isn’t only found in a few people at the top of organizations. It is an affliction of many bosses. When it strikes, it causes them to claim ideas their subordinates dreamed up, belittle other people’s achievements, and demand unquestioning “loyalty” and adulation from all around them.

This behavior often serves the narcissist rather well on their way to the top. They exude confidence. Many are intelligent, obviously ambitious, and ready to undertake any risks to win that coveted recognition. The organization is dazzled by their appearance of leadership and readily forgives “minor” faults like egocentricity.

Today’s “grab and go” management style and obsession with short-term results is tailor-made for narcissists. It offers a sure route to recognition—provided that you don’t care who else gets hurt, stressed, or burned out to fuel your path ever upwards.

Only later does the true nature of the narcissist appear. To win continual recognition, many sacrifice integrity, honesty, ethics and all civilized and humane values. They surround themselves with adoring acolytes, pushing aside real ability with its annoying habit of questioning their ideas. As we have all seen, some will even sacrifice the good name and survival of the business itself to feed their narcissism.

What’s the answer? It’s probably too much to expect the media and the public not to be carried away by surface “flash,” but there’s no excuse for organizations who join in. It’s not hard to spot a narcissist. Clarity of thought and firm values can ensure that true ability isn’t set aside by the more fashionable, fake variety. In nearly every bad situation, subsequent analysis shows the warning signs were always there; people simply ignored them in favor of going along with the flow.

A major part of being a Slow Leader is refusing to put the creative, rational part of your brain to sleep; taking time out to sort reality from appearance; valuing honesty above ambition; and sometimes having the courage to speak the truth, even when no one else wants to hear it.

So if you see some boss or senior executive spending too much time polishing his or her self-image, go buy yourself a bunch of narcissi and put them somewhere prominent to remind you of what may happen to you, unless you take heed in time.

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon
Sign up for our Email Newsletter

Labels: , ,

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar


John Wesley said...

Very thought provoking post. In my experience confidence is a huge asset, but those with high confidence are always treading the line of narcissism. It's a difficult balance to attain and definitely one the key aspects of success.

6:41 AM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks for your comment, John.

I'm glad that you enjoyed the article.

Keep reading, my friend.

6:44 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a  Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.