I believe all strong leaders exhibit narcissistic tendencies at times. I have certainly seen this failure in me.
When most of us think of the word narcissism, we think of the self-absorbed malevolent type. That form of narcissism is pretty easy to see a mile a way and stay away from, especially in spiritual leadership. When you look at the definition of narcissism, however, there is a form that is the Achilles heel of most leaders.
This definition in the New Oxford American Dictionary should scare every leader. “A grandiose view of one's own talents and a craving for admiration.” There is a self-absorption that is much easier to hide. This form of narcissism is more of an orientation to to the world around us. How easy is it as a leader to make ourselves the center of our leadership environment? It’s super subtle and super dangerous.
It’s easy to hide narcissism for a while behind being visionary, confident, charismatic, and perfectionist.
In Dan Allender‘s book, Leading with a Limp, he makes the observation that “narcissism in any form, involves the following four aspects:
1. Lack of interest in the perspective of others: Why would I ask any-one a question unless I can use the opportunity to tell her what I know? This is a failure of curiosity.
2. Highly opinionated: Even those who agree with me don’t understand what I see. This is a failure of humility.
3. Emotionally detached: To feel is harmful because it means being vulnerable and susceptible to the desires of others. This is a failure of care.
4. Ruthlessly utilitarian: Your value is exclusively tied to what you produce for me."
All four aspects are remarkably tempting for most strong leaders.
And Michael Maccoby, author of The Productive Narcissist, argues that a visionary leader evidences two core qualities: “A true narcissist is the kind of person who (1) doesn’t listen to anyone else when he believes in doing something and (2) has a precise vision of how things should be.” Essentially making themselves and their experiences the orientation to knowledge. There again, a foggy line between being confident and narcissistic.
Here is some of how I have experienced and seen narcissistic leadership clothed in confidence:
• When leaders feel the need to remind others of their experience, training and position. Narcissism wants the trump card.
• When leaders constantly turn the conversation back to them. Narcissism can’t help but listen autobiographically.
• When leaders almost panic to be recognized as the best or better than others on the team. Narcissism wants everything to be done their way.
• When leaders micromanage the team around them. Narcissism believes that what everyone on the team does is a reflection of them.
I believe all strong leaders exhibit narcissistic tendencies at times. I have certainly seen this failure in me. Therefore, I love what Allender goes onto say how I should deal with the leadership narcissism in me. "In the believing community, success requires shaping your character to the contours of the One who calls us to mimic him—Jesus. The antithesis of narcissism is Jesus, and any model of leadership that prizes even the secular notion of servant-leader must eschew narcissism in all its forms, virulent or benign. True success involves failure, brokenness, and humility…”
We always have a leadership example in Jesus. It’s possible to be confident, visionary, bold and at the same time humble, broken and other-centered. It’s possible to remove myself from the center and at the same time lead. With the paradoxical example of a servant-King, we have the ability and the motivation to make our leadership all about His glory and for the benefit of those we lead.
The only way to have the influence you want as a leader is to create psychological safety.
What does it look like to lead the next generation well and help build young people into great leaders?
What happens when charisma outpaces character in a leader? Charisma is on display for everyone to see and character can be harder to spot.