Research shows that as many as 10% of leaders could have narcissistic or sociopathic tendencies lurking behind a charming veneer. They are self-obsessed, leave a trail of casualties in their wake, and like Typhoid Mary are seemingly unaffected by their actions.
Organizational psychologist Kathy Schnure‘s research, presented at the 25th annual conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, and reported in Management Issues, compared ratings of leadership potential for those who have high levels of narcissism to those who show low-to-average levels on the ‘narcissism scale‘.
She found those displaying strong narcissistic tendencies – things like exploitation/entitlement, leadership/authority, superiority/arrogance, and self-absorption/self admiration – had a significantly higher rating of potential leadership abilities than those with low-to-average scores.
“Those results would indicate the vision, confidence and pride in their own accomplishments could presumably translate into effective leadership in an organization or team,” Schnure said.
On the other hand, while narcissists do gain leadership roles, often based on their charisma and ability to persuade others to accept their point of view, some of the underlying traits, or “dark sides” will eventually surface, preventing any “good” leadership,” she added.
Timothy Judge, an organizational psychologist at the University of Florida, says a prime example of this “dark side” is an overblown sense of self-worth.
“Narcissists are intensely competitive, self-centered, exploitive and exhibitionistic. They tend to surround themselves with supplicants they see as inferior. When they are challenged or perceive competition, they often derogate and undermine anyone, even those closest to them, they perceive as threats (and unfortunately, they are vigilant in scanning for threats)“.
Schnure said leaders who are charismatic are not necessarily narcissists. “Charismatic leaders are not exploitive; they do not trample others to get what they want. Rather they display empathy toward employees” she added.
And what about leaders who are described as “charismatic”, for example Obama or the late Steve Jobs at Apple? Rob Goffee, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School and co-author of “Why Should Anyone Be Led by You?”, quoted in an article in The Times “It’s not all about being charismatic“, in 2009, thinks that strong leaders are good at developing disciples, but not successors.
“The people that make leaders charismatic are their followers. Barack Obama, for example, is clearly charismatic, but he’s also enigmatic. You can’t pin him down and so he allows us to project our dreams and hopes on to him.”
So just what does it take to be a leader? According to the Work Foundation there are 5 key skills:
- Seeing the bigger picture
- Understanding that talk is work
- Giving time and space to others
- Going through performance
- Putting “we” before “me”
Source: The Guardian article “Follow Your Leader?” 16/01/2010
And based on good practice and wide experience I also offer the following quick read: 10 ways to be a leader
First posted on SGANDA
Since the recession CEOs have been leaving jobs more quickly than hitherto – albeit often with a generous payout. Think of Tesco or Thomas Cook, not to mention the banks. Sometimes you can’t help thinking people are being rewarded for failure.
Back in 2010 Ruth Sunderland wrote a well-referenced piece in The Observer: “Superheroes and supervillains – why the cult of the CEO blinds us to reality“.
She started by comparing the contrasting fortunes of the CEOs from BP and Tesco and suggests that businessmen are idolised out of all proportion and then become victims of a witch hunt when things go wrong (a bit like football managers?).
Some people argue that the “cult of the chief executive” requires bosses to be charismatic leaders rather than competent managers. Most modern CEOs don’t talk about making money but about “vision and values” and have a “mission statement” rather than a job description.
She quotes research that shows that fame and charisma, with a few exceptions, has little relationship to high company performance. In the past entrepreneurs like Rockefeller (founder of Standard Oil) or Victorian soap baron Lord Lever were larger than life but they were bringing something new to market.
With the exception of people like James Dyson, Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, most CEOs are not entrepreneurs (and haven’t invested in the companies which begs the question of why they get paid so much when they are not risking their own money – but that’s a different post).
Perhaps in difficult times we look for inspiration, influenced by the celebrity TV programmes like The Apprentice in both the US and the UK. Some CEOs undoubtedly succumb to narcissistic behaviour, a topic I have touched on more than once.See: “Leadership – the dark side“.
One contributor suggested that many CEOs are driven to succeed by trauma in their childhood which may help them to super-achieve but not have the personality to cope with failure. (This is not true for everyone. See: “What doesn’t kill you, makes you”). Egotistical CEOs may feel the need to take more risks to maintain or enhance their profiles which can then lead to spectacular failures with nowhere to hide.
There are also cultural differences with companies from Anglo-American meritocratic societies tending to go for star performers compared with the emerging Asian businesses preferring a more team-based approach. NB When Marissa Mayer was appointed as CEO at Yahoo in 2012 (having previously worked at Google) she apparently didn’t undergo any formal recruitment and assessment process.
As Professor Froud from MBS said; ” … in a large organisation success or failure doesn’t hang on any one individual” but an anonymous FTSE100 CEO said; “Leadership is emotional. It is about winning hearts and minds to a common purpose. It’s not just about one person, but it starts with one person“.
This is an updated extract of a post from SGANDA in 2010
And that’s not bad for someone who has business and law degrees but is a self-taught psychologist.
She is described as an extreme leadership guru who uses neuroshaping or “playing chemist with your own brain” to help people become more charismatic and persuasive.
Like other top end coaches she offers shadowing and video analysis and concedes that the charisma label is just a hook she uses to attract clients.
Starting off by offering free charisma courses to students at MIT she soon developed programmes for Harvard, Yale and the UN. She says she still does pro bono work for charities and refuses to work with politicians.
She is adamant that charisma is not just a genetic gift bestowed on people like Bill Clinton but is mostly learnt. Cabane also says that there are different kinds of charisma e.g. a warm likeable charisma (think Tony Blair at his peak and Bill Clinton) or a colder uncompromising style such as personified by Steve Jobs.
Mmm .. I’ve used a model borrowed from actors which suggests that charisma is a combination of warmth and status. Think of Gordon Brown as high status but hardly warm and cuddly. And that model ties in with US research on charismatic Fire Chiefs who score high on the Big 5 factor of Agreeableness.
Despite the reference to “neuroshaping” (which hints at he current interest in neuroscience) it seems much of what she teaches clients is about assertiveness and the use of NVC (she mentions the MIT research I’ve posted about previously). She also uses visualisation and anchoring techniques used by sports psychologists and NLP practitioners.
Here are the 5 steps outlined in the Times article
Stand like a big gorilla and take up as much space as possible. This is a technique well known to actors and is an example of demonstrating high status
Don’t wave your head about or nod as it indicates low status and confidence. Especially important for women who tend to move their heads to the side when theys peak. This is more a courtship/flirting signal
Make good eye contact but with warmth. Again a sign of confidence.
Lean back rather than froward when closing a deal as this suggests high confidence. In the past people were trained to lean forward and invade personal space to intimidate people.
Be aware of how you are feeling. Be in the moment. Mindfulness is very popular now and anything like it will help you relax and concentrate.
Good emotional intelligence and empathy will also be invaluable.
Having self confidence is one of them. If you are confident and comfortable with yourself then you will project this outwardly.
If you are not self-confident then think of someone who is and copy their voice patterns, body posture and non-verbal signals (NVC) which you think contribute to their self-confidence.
This may mean for example, walking more slowly/ more briskly, lowering the pitch of your voice, or speaking more slowly/ more quickly.
Socially confident people have good emotional intelligence; not only are they self-aware and know how to control their own emotions, but they can sense others’ moods and know how to deal with them. Your spoken word and body language NVC must be telling the same story. If they don’t there will be leakage and people will sense that you are not being genuine. You should mean what you say but you don’t always have to say what you mean.
Physical presence is the quality that makes people give way for you or listen to what you have to say. This is mainly communicated through body language. Having an assertive posture – standing with feet slightly apart, looking still but alert (a zen-like martial arts readiness posture), maintaining eye contact but not overpowering others, smilingappropriately (and eliciting smiles in return), and being confident with your gestures.
Tall people are considered to have more leadership/command presence, so hold yourself tall (that piece of string through the centre of your head to the ceiling) and no slouching. Wear high heels and flattering clothes that make you look taller.
If you are really keen sign up for a Karate, Aikido, Yoga or Tai Chi class to help improve your self-confidence and develop your inner calm.
For those of you who feel less than charismatic the good news is that researchers have now found ways of measuring charisma and also how to teach it.