Taking Steps Toward Leadership–The perils of worship

Some leaders become leaders because they adore adoration.  They live for it; they seek it; they will do anything to attain it and keep it.  This is the classic Narcissistic approach to leadership.  This type of leader believes that his success is a character trait, not the result of any actions on his part.  There is an old joke about this man who put himself so high on a pedestal that when he was praying, he’d start with, “While I’m up here…”  Because this leader believes that he is the embodiment of leadership, anything he says or does will automatically result in wonderful things.  He never makes a mistake.  He doesn’t have to rely on his network of advisers.  His inspirations produce immediate results.

You can tell this type of leader because all his supporting staff is walking on eggs to keep from infuriating him, and will be stressed out to the max from cleaning up his messes.  This leader has a thought, broadcasts it out to everyone, pats himself on the back and goes into his office to leave his staff to spin what he said, assuage those who have been adversely affected by the leader’s actions or words, and try to maintain some sort of communications path to steady the course of events.  These leaders pride themselves on their intuition, decisiveness, and insight.  They have none of those qualities.  They do possess vision and enthusiasm and what appears to be focus on the future.  It remains focused on future until someone says something untoward about the leader.  Then you will see a change in the focus to what the leader really craves:  the spotlight and adoration and adulation of their followers.  They will please their followers for a bit until once again the cliff looms.

They seek attention by conventional means such as getting a prestigious position, by outrageous means by saying something that shocks people into noticing them, or by identifying with a specific group and speaking what they expect to hear.  The adoration and the praise and even the adverse reaction fuel the need for attention.  The problem is that these types of people also fear losing the spotlight.  They seek to destroy those that would deny them their due praise.  They never forget a slight.  They become ruthless in this quest.  The people that point out their shortcomings threaten to put out this spotlight or take it from these leaders, and for that offense, they must be “dealt with.”

This is where narcissistic rage comes in.  It is unfathomable to these leaders that everyone doesn’t adore them, and, taking every comment personally, they go after these objectors personally with no holds barred.  These “undesirables” are belittled in public, gossiped about or attacked socially, possibly attacked financially,  and sometimes even physically!  The problem with this fixation on those who would steal the spot light is that the offended leader actually gives them the spotlight by focusing all the rage and attention on them.  The more of the spotlight the detractors have, the more enraged this leader becomes and he gets completely consumed by restoring his center of attention.  He makes leadership mistakes. He gets distracted from his main purpose.  In other words, his goals change from those that would improve his company, his community, or his constituency to those that would cement his place in the center of attention.  His followers either join him in his rage, or drop off.  Those that quit or leave feel betrayed and embarrassed about having followed the leader.  Those that stick with him will adopt the same rage and the same tactics.  They become fanatics in their support of their leader.  But over time, all of his followers will leave, because the person they are following has no room for them.  They have to subvert every personal goal and every dream they have as individuals to this leader’s goals and dreams, and there is no reward for that.

There are pros to counter the cons of a narcissistic leader.  But, as Michael Maccoby wrote in the Harvard Business review, unless this type of leader has people he trusts around him and a willingness to listen to them, people that can curb his paranoia, people that can clean up the messes that he makes in his constant bid for the adoration and admiration of his public, the leader becomes more isolated, more paranoid and more likely to self destruct.  His demise is likely to bring down any organization with which he’s connected.

When his company, community, or constituents feel a need for inspiration, for rejuvenation, for hope, this type of leader is like a breath of fresh air.  But when he fails, it smells like a sewer.  Be cautious in following a narcissist.


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