Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Productive Narcissist: The Promise and Peril of Visionary Leadership

by Michael Maccoby

ISBN: 0767910230
ISBN-13: 9780767910231]

What is it that Oprah Winfrey, Jack Welch, Martha Stewart, and Bill Gates all have in common? According to psychoanalyst, anthropologist, and consultant Michael Maccoby, it's not just enormous success and celebrity - it's narcissism. In The Productive Narcissist, Maccoby proposes a new paradigm of modern leadership and zeros in on one common character trait: the narcissistic personality. Challenging prevailing leadership theories, 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." Rejecting the negative stereotype of the individual who is destroyed by a pathological preoccupation with himself, Maccoby redefines the productive narcissist as the personality type who is best suited to lead during times of rapid social and economic change. At the same time, he makes clear that narcissistic leadership doesn't always mean successful leadership and that narcissists lacking strategic intelligence are fated to crash and burn.

Publishers Weekly
In this provocative analysis of contemporary business leaders, psychoanalyst and consultant Maccoby (The Gamesman) reminds readers of Freud's assessment of the narcissist as "the type of person who impresses us as a personality, who disrupts the status quo and brings about change." Maccoby finds examples of these personalities in's Jeff Bezos, Apple's Steve Jobs and Intel's Andy Grove. For Maccoby, the difference between the common view of narcissists as self-absorbed dreamers and the more contrarian notion of their being runaway successes like Microsoft's Bill Gates lies in their realizing personal potential ("productiveness") and being endowed with "strategic intelligence" (as opposed to measurable IQ). This type of intelligence mixes foresight, systems thinking, ability to create a vision, charisma to motivate others and a genius for partnering with complementary talents that Maccoby views as critical to success in managing innovative businesses. Maccoby does acknowledge that after recent corporate upheavals, many may be wary of this type of leader. For those working with productive narcissists, he offers strategies. Business readers willing to slog through Maccoby's sometimes academic prose will learn much here. And to counter the understandable reaction against hiring narcissists as corporate leaders-most corporations would rather avoid the type, Maccoby says-there's the cautionary tale of a 1971 Human Resources report on an executive applying to become CEO of a major company in which the man's renegade tactics and irascible personality were viewed as less than desirable; the man got the job despite HR's reservations. That applicant was Jack Welch.

Customer Reviews

Maccoby Cuts Through the Leadership Literature Clutter
George Casey, Ph.D., Director of Human Resources, 06/13/2003

My home library shelves are cluttered with many of the best selling books that present varied and conflicting leadership theories. Very often, those best selling theories are presented in popular and simplistic terms that appeal to wishful thinking but are not very applicable in the workplace. Maccoby cuts through the leadership literature clutter with a very clearly reasoned and persuasively presented vision of leadership. It is a very insightful and integrated vision based on 30+ years of practical field research and experience as a consultant, anthropologist, psychologist and leadership coach. As a Director of Human Resources with 20 years of experience, I found Maccoby's description of the narcissistic leader and other personality types to be a useful aid to understanding CEOs, Presidents, Vice-President and other leaders who were difficult to relate to and eluded explanation. Maccoby's self-inventory and descriptions of Freud's and Fromm's personality types are also pragmatic tools for any managers and would be leaders who are interested in understanding themselves and in developing their ability to partner effectively with other personality types. Maccoby's elegant writing style and use of entertaining poignant illustrations from productive narcissists we know and love make his analysis of the personality types and strategic thinking entertaining, lively and dynamic... without losing sight of what is practical. What you learn from reading this book may not leave you feeling warm and fuzzy, but it is very useful.

A Dangerous Liaison
Sam Vaknin (, author of Malignant Self Love, 06/04/2003

Three stars is a compromise between the deeply flawed - and even dangerous - 'advice' offered by the author - and the impressive scholarly overview it is embedded in. The book purports to teach us how to harness this force of nature known as malignant or pathological narcissism. Narcissists are driven, visionary, ambitious, exciting and productive, says Maccoby. To ignore such a resource is a criminal waste. All we need to do is learn how to 'handle' them. As the author of 'Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited', I had the chance to work with thousands of narcissists and their victims, including in corporate settings. Maccoby's prescription is either naive or disingenuous. Narcissists cannot be 'handled' or 'managed' or 'contained' or 'channeled'. They are, by definition, incapable of team work. They lack empathy, are exploitative, envious, haughty and feel entitled, even if such a feeling is commensurate only with their grandiose fantasies. Narcissists dissemble, conspire, destroy and self-destruct. Their drive is compulsive, their vision rarely grounded in reality, their human relations a calamity. In the long run, there is no enduring benefit to dancing with narcissists - only ephemeral and, often, fallacious, 'achievements'.