In the Greek myth Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection, so absorbed was he with self love that eventually he turned into the eponymous flower.
It is easy to see that Narcissus’s self love was unhealthy. As a society however we seem to fall for Narcissists all to often. It is easy to see why – in a society plagued by self doubt – those who appear confident, assertive and driven, are attractive. For those with humility the superficial difference between a narcissist and a confident and strong person may take some skill and experience to discern.
Narcissism is a psychological spectrum which could be seen to range from excessive humility through “normal” healthy self love to overbearing ego and self centredness. It is characterised by self focus, lack of empathy, difficulty sustaining relationships, being easily insulted, using others, boastfulness and blaming others rather than taking responsibility.
None of which sounds particularly attractive and yet, again and again, we vote for, appoint and allow narcissists to lead us in business and politics. Narcissists do have their attractions as leaders – they are often the first to step up and lead in a leaderless situation and their drive for ego satisfaction can lead them (and their followers) to what often looks like great success.
The downside is that narcissists will rarely pay much attention to collateral damage or risk. They are uninhibited by exploiting others (or the environment) and they are resistant to personal development and change because they are generally unwilling to take responsibility for the negative consequences of their actions. The success they create can be short lived because of the collateral damage that occurs along the way.
These days when we think about great leadership we are looking for people who have the courage and tenacity to hold on to a vision, a purpose and a set of values. The charisma and personal impact to inspire others to pursue the vision and to do more than they might have believed possible. And the humility to help and support others to get the best out of themselves and to take responsibility for their own shortcomings and do something about it.
As a society these are the criteria we need to be using when we appoint leaders in business or government and as leaders ourselves these are the qualities to aspire to. While at the same time not being beguiled by the easy temptation of abdicating our own leadership responsibilities to the first person to throw their hat in the ring – who might well be a narcissist.
What do you think? Please comment and discuss here – click on the blog title and scroll to the bottom to find the comment box.
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