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Published on július 4th, 2013 | by Multiculti Juli

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A Brief Look At Narcissistic Leadership

There are several well-known leadership styles, but narcissistic leadership is one that only came to public attention from 2000 onwards following a flurry of articles and books by Michael Maccoby, Kets de Vries and others.

The Narcissistic Leadership Style Defined

In essence, “narcissistic leadership” refers to leadership by a narcissist and the co-dependent relationship it involves between the leader and his closest circle of followers.

What Is Narcissism?

The first question therefore is, what is narcissism?

The simplest way to describe it is an unconscious active behavioural response to deep, unrecognised feelings of inadequacy.

You see, some people who feel deep down that they’re not good enough and believe they will make a mistake if they try anything bold, decide that it’s better not to take a risk – for if they do they are certain they will fail and feel the sting of humiliation.  Now this would be a passive response.

However, narcissists respond to their feelings of inadequacy in the opposite way.  They strive to succeed in public, to be better than others, to have more than others, to feel superior and win others’ respect, admiration and acclaim.  So the key feature of the narcissist is that their drive to succeed comes from a hidden sense of inferiority and inadequacy.

Narcissistic Leadership – A Vague Label

The difficulty with narcissism is that it can vary in intensity from mild to pathological (at the pathological end we find narcissistic personality disorder).  This means the label “narcissistic leadership” is vague.  Are we referring to leadership by someone displaying mild narcissism or extreme narcissism?  There’s no clear answer to that.

So here we will assume that on a scale from mild to extreme, narcissistic leadership refers to behaviour by leaders who are between the midpoint and the extreme.

Narcissistic Leaders & Their Followers

Because at their core narcissistic leaders don’t feel good about themselves they gather around them people who bolster their self-esteem.  However – and this is important – there is usually co-dependence between the narcissistic leader and his followers because very often they too suffer hidden feelings of inadequacy.  Without realising it, they cluster around the narcissistic leader to feel better about themselves by association.  After all, they are working with the impressive, important leader so they too must share these qualities to some degree – or so they believe.

The point is this: there is a payoff for both narcissistic leader and followers in their relationship.

Strengths of Narcissistic Leaders

Narcissistic leaders can have great strengths.  They can be visionaries, they often have the ability to attract plenty of followers and they will act boldly.

In short, they can make things happen; especially if they have good technical knowhow in their field.

Weaknesses of Narcissistic Leaders

However, the sense of inadequacy that gives the narcissistic leader his drive is also the source of the common problems of narcissistic leadership.  This is because narcissistic leaders are often:

  • Prone to grandiose, unrealistic visions and to over-estimating their wisdom and judgement.  So they may take foolish risks.
  • Unusually sensitive to criticism and liable to fly into a rage – which makes it hard and risky to disagree with them… or tell them bad news.  It can also make them slow to learn.
  • Lacking in empathy.  Now when you combine this with the fact that they’re often street-smart, they may exploit others without caring about their impact.  This is of course immoral, but it’s not the only problem – for if the exploitation affects too many people for too long it may cause a revolt and lead to the narcissitic leader’s downfall.
  • Likely to gather a bunch of yes-men around them – which can lead to poor decisions.
  • Distrustful and so keen to win that they can create an atmosphere of infighting, suspicion and intense internal competition, making teamwork harder.

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