Ending The Age Of Narcissism
In the US, we spent the past four years steeped in narcissistic leadership — a term that led to two impeachments, an insurrectionist attack on the US Capital, a deep examination of basics of democracy, and some of the most divisive politics in US history. With a quavering definition of “truth,” it has often felt like our foundational principles might shake out from underneath us.
In retrospect, it was easy to watch the advancement of narcissism here in the US throughout the late 90’s and the 00’s. Narcissists were celebrated from Silicon Valley to Wall Street, and from Instagram to — yes — reality TV. Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Kanye West, and DJT don’t have a lot of patience for friendliness or consensus. They’ve got a clear vision and all you need to do is get the eff out of their way.
It’s easy to become enthralled with a narcissist. They’re so confident — so self-assured. It must be great to be able to make decisions so quickly and confidently. They’re quick to share their accomplishments and they save you time having to do any reference or fact checking. Just ask them. They’re brilliant! And they’re always right.
When it comes right down to it though, narcissists make us feel scared and unqualified. There seems to be a constant smokescreen around them. Maybe “gaslight” is a better word. It’s The Emperor’s New Clothes. This combination of confidence and confusion causes a lot of us to assume that their knowledge is just over our heads. “This person must really know what they’re talking about because they seem so confident. I should hire them so we can bring this expertise into my company.”
But narcissists are not collaborators. They’re not good teachers. They’re not interested in elevating those around them. Their presence in a company inspires a competitive, and even fear-based culture. You’re not really bringing their expertise into the company. That expertise, if it exists, will remain inside the narcissist and not be shared with others. And the more they advance — the more they are promoted (after all they’re the only one with this magic knowledge) — the more this culture of fear and competitiveness will trickle down into your company.
But self-confidence is good, right? Experience and talent are certainly good. So how do we tell the difference between self-confidence and narcissism? In a word: empathy.
When you’re looking for people to hire look for a sense of humor, look for a confident vulnerability and openness, and look for empathy. Look for signs of a collaborative spirit. Do they talk in terms of “I” or “we”? Do they belittle others? Keep your bullshit detector charged and calibrated.
I believe that the next paradigm in work will be “trust.” The pandemic has forced companies to rethink how they work, how they collaborate, and how they connect. Trust is certainly the foundation of remote work. Trust is the foundation of flexible work. It’s a magical thing to be able to work with people you trust. When they’re allowed, narcissists will erode trust. They’ll chew it up and deny it was ever there to begin with.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t ever hire any “rockstar developers” or “bulldog salespeople” in the future. The world will always have narcissists. But let’s stop enabling and encouraging them. It shouldn’t be cool to be a narcissist. And please — please! — stop confusing narcissism with talent or leadership.
Jeff Robbins is a business coach, mentor, and virtual business partner who works one-on-one with company owners and leaders to help them build vision and direction for their companies while building productivity, stability, and happiness for their employees and themselves. You can work with him too. Reach out to set up a free consultation session.