Narcissism and Leadership

What is narcissism?

Narcissism is excessive self involvement, vanity, ego centrism and lack of regard for others.

Narcissism and Leadership:

Narcissists are more likely to become leaders as they generally possess vision and the ability to attract and inspire followers. There is without a doubt a dark side to narcissism but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be a useful trait. Sigmund Freud, when describing narcissists, wrote that “People of this type impress others as being ‘personalities’.” “They are especially suited to act as support for others, to take on the role of leaders, and to give a fresh stimulus to cultural development or damage the established state of affairs.” He tempered this description however by pointing out that narcissists are emotionally isolated and highly distrustful. Perceived threats can trigger rage while achievements can feed feelings of grandiosity. They listen only for the type of information they seek and don’t learn easily from others. They don’t like to teach but prefer to make speeches and indoctrinate. Examples of narcissistic leaders include Donald Trump, Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison.

Dealing with Narcissists:

Business is all about making deals and according to Ann Frost, Associate Professor at Ivy Business School, narcissists love to win so you will do better dealing with them if they think they have won. It pays to understand how to negotiate with narcissists as we often have to deal with egotistical people whether we want to or not.

  1. Listen to them

It is really important to be clear about what you need but this isn’t always easy as narcissists in the mail don’t want to listen. They like to hear themselves talk- that’s why it’s crucial to listen when they do as it is your best opportunity to find out what they really want which may be different to what you think or what they are telling you they want.

  1. Explain your role in helping them get what they want

Once you understand what they need you can explain clearly how you can help provide it. Narcissists like an idea best when they believe that they came up with it so if possible you should try and ensure that the negotiation process and outcome will make them look good.

  1. Provide positive reinforcement

While narcissists typically don’t care what you want they do care about what people think. They are incredibly sensitive to criticism or slights so it can be useful to appeal to their need to be seen as influential, powerful or intelligent while simultaneously framing your offer in a way that enhances how others see them or how they see themselves.

Like anyone else, they want to help people they like so do what you can to feed them the positive reinforcement they need. The more you can provide the more potential you have to be liked.

Narcissists often have short attention spans so you should try to get them to act quickly on promises made. In spite of the drawbacks Michael Macoby in Harvard Business Review believes that narcissism can be incredibly useful- even necessary particularly as there is no substitute for narcissistic leadership in an age of innovation.

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