Too full of themselves to lead
Back in the so called “olden days” of my youth (the 1930s, if you will) my teacher used to say, “Pride is concerned with WHO is right. Humility is concerned with WHAT is right.”
You know, my teacher surely knew what she was talking about. And what she said then about pride is truly relevant today. It has been said “Pride destroys a person quicker than ignorance.” Now that is a powerful statement.
Through the years, I have discovered that the personality characteristics of superiority of pride, self-centeredness, and a lack of empathy seem to be so comfortable walking hand-in-hand … as does egotistical arrogance and conceitedness. You know as I see it, these characteristics of personality appear to have a relatedness highly compatible with narcissism
For the most part, the American political system seems to be alive and well. We applaud those individuals who are moved by a sincere desire to serve, lead, and govern. And then, there are those who are motivated by pride, personal self-interests, and a need for power and aggrandizement. In such situations, narcissism seems to play a heavy hand.
The term Narcissism is appearing more and more in the current news stories. Narcissism, an inflated sense of one’s self and one’s abilities, can help individuals carve successful careers in the public eye, experts say. But that self-grandiosity can and usually does lead to a self destruct scenario.
“Narcissism can be a strength in that if you feel special, you’re more apt to do special things,” said Paul Griffin, a psychologist who taught at Pace University. But it can serve as a sort of “mind blindness.” Narcissist individuals explain away their own behaviors and feel entitled to do the things they do. “Huge egos” are what cause some folks to put themselves above others, and with that mentality, self destruction, in time, begins to take center stage.
Narcissists may think they’d be good leaders, but often their preoccupation with themselves hinders their performance in teamwork situations. And good leadership goes hand in hand with teamwork. For without a teamwork spirit, there can be no leadership.
Although narcissists have leadership-related qualities, such as confidence, authority and high self-esteem, their self-centeredness ultimately prevents them from partaking of the creative exchange of information and ideas, which is crucial in group decision-making situations. And good leadership is a process by which a person influences others to accomplish an objective and directs the organization in a way that makes it more cohesive and coherent. With examples, such as has been in the news: Saddam Hussein, Muammar Qaddafi, and Hosni Mubarek, it isn’t a surprise that research has shown that many such leaders are narcissists. Narcissists have a knack for getting into positions of power and authority (although they likely become MORE narcissistic once they are in power). Moreover, some of these narcissists appear as powerful leaders (and evil too ) … Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin, the list goes on and on.
Narcissistic leaders tend to be relentless in their pursuit of their ambitions, but they can also be ruthless, not caring much about the collateral damage that occurs. They lack empathy, are sensitive to criticism, are self-centered, believing that everyone must think the same way that they do. Michael Maccoby, noted anthropologist and leadership specialist, suggests that many narcissistic leaders on the surface appear as effective and productive, for awhile. But, that is because they surround themselves with trusted “sidekicks” who help manage them and balance them out. But their strength is short lived and soon becomes a weakened image of its so called “strong self.”
For the narcissist, it is always a zero-sum game he or she plays with other individuals. From the perspective of the narcissist, if someone else “wins,” the narcissist “loses.” It cannot be otherwise, since on some level they know that their own talent and skills are way overblown. Hence, they cannot hope to “win” based on those talents alone. Thus, the behavior of the classic narcissist is mostly directed toward making others lose so they can win by default. To that end, for the narcissists, there is no behavior or tactic that is considered out-of-bounds or over-the-top.
Hence, we see the current state of discourse and the ubiquitous personal attacks that have become the trademark of some in the public arena. You know, there are those out there who are not of this narcissistic mentality, and then, there are others. This columnist has seen both. Hopefully, the majority of folks will discern those who are and those who are not. For therein lies the future of “the Republic for which we stand.”
You know, going back to the beginning of this column … my teacher sure knew what she was talking about when she said “Pride is concerned with WHO is right. Humility is concerned with WHAT is right.”
Dr. Robert L. Heichberger is professor emeritus at the State University of New York at Fredonia.