Thursday, October 25, 2007

Narcissistic Leaders: Who Succeeds and Who Fails

by Michael Maccoby

ISBN: 1422104141
ISBN-13: 9781422104149

From the Publisher
Today's business leaders maintain a higher profile than their predecessors did in the 1950s through the 1980s. Rather than hide behind the corporate veil, they give interviews to magazines like Business Week, Time, and the Economist. According to psychoanalyst, anthropologist, and consultant Michael Maccoby, this love of the limelight often stems from their personalities--in a narcissistic personality. That is both good and bad news: Narcissists are good for companies that need people with vision and the courage to take them in new directions. But narcissists can also lead companies into trouble by refusing to listen to the advice and warnings of their managers. So what can the narcissistic leader do to avoid the traps of his own personality? Maccoby argues that today's most innovative leaders are not consensus-building bureaucrats; they are "productive narcissists" with the interrelated set of skills -- foresight, systems thinking, visioning, motivating, and partnering - that he terms "strategic intelligence." Maccoby redefines the negative stereotype as the personality best suited to lead during times of rapid social and economic change.

Customer Reviews

The N leader and the N led
By Ramana Rajgopaul (Pune, India)

I originally purchased the book as I had had a very bad experience with a narcissistic leader and had to eventually part company with him. I could easily identify his behaviour with the portrayal in the book. What however blew me was the realisation that I had some narcissistic traits in me too!

Since I had experienced failure prior to the ralization of my own narcissism, I particularly savoured the part of the type of Ns who succeed.

I recommend this book to all interested in studying human behaviour as often we do not really understand that our leader/s is/are narcissistic and go through very difficult times. If we ourselves have narcissistic tendencies, this book helps us to identify this trait to take such steps as necessary to lead a happy life.

Why some narcissistic leaders are productive...and others are not
By Robert Morris (Dallas, Texas)

As Michael Maccoby explains in his Preface, "To understand differences among narcissists and even predict which visionaries will succeed and which are likely to fail, this book dissects narcissistic personalities and contrasts narcissists with the other psychoanalytic personalities: the careful obsessives, caring erotics, and adaptive marketing types." Maccoby concludes, "I'm proposing that management theories need to take account of personality and context. Different personality types shine in different settings. Their approach to leadership may be right for one context but not another." Jack Welch offers an excellent case in point. He was selected by Reggie Jones to succeed him as CEO, challenging Welch to "blow up" GE. He had the right "personality" for that "context." (For years thereafter, he was referred to as "Neutron Jack.") Throughout the narrative that follows, Maccoby focuses on other examples of productive as well as non-productive narcissists, comparing and contrasting them in terms of their positive or negative impact, especially on their respective corporate cultures.

Of special interest to me is what Maccoby has to say about what he characterizes as "strategic intelligence," especially in Chapter 4. It consists of five elements. The first two (foresight and systems thinking) are "pure intelligence" skills. The other three (visioning, motivating, and partnering) are what Maccoby views as "real-world" skills. He rigorously examines each of the five elements, and what emerges is a composite profile of the productive narcissist: she or he thinks in terms of unprovable forces that are shaping the future...sensing a coming wave that [her or his organization] can ride on"; possesses "an ability to synthesize and integrate, to conceptualize the whole rather than a collection of separate parts"; has a holistic vision, then creates that vision in the real world of business; then achieves buy-in of that vision throughout the given enterprise to embrace a common purpose and implement the vision; and finally, understands "how each alliance, whether personal or corporate, fits into [her or his] vision for the company."

On Pages 197-200, Maccoby provides an especially clever summary of the five elements in the form of a series of statements (one cluster per element) that enables each reader to complete a preliminary (rather than definitive) self-diagnostic of her or his own strategic intelligence. It should also be noted that, previously in Chapter One, Maccoby provides a questionnaire that invites his reader to respond to a series of 80 statements, indicating Never, Almost Never, Seldom, Sometimes, Frequently, or Almost Always. Then in the Appendix, he explains how to interpret the questionnaire results and provides two forms to chart results. One suggests the degree to which the reader's responses fit the four personality types (i.e. erotic, possessive, marketing, and narcissistic); the other chart suggests the profile for the productive aspects of each type (i.e. caring, systematic, self-developing, and visionary). By the time his reader arrives at the Appendix, Maccoby has thoroughly discussed all of the various elements, personality types, and productive aspects.

To repeat, the self-diagnostic he offers is by no means definitive, nor does he make any such claim. It was of substantial value to me, however, because it increased my understanding of Maccoby's core concepts; also, by completing the self-diagnostic, I was challenged to think about those aspects of my own personality that I can - and should -- leverage to become more productive.