Narcissists - the last species in the 21st century

05/14/2016 10:43 am ET

In times of global complexity, continuing comparison, unethical competition and endless expectations, senior management and their boards of directors show – far too often – how much some committees only acknowledge an unreal reality with the explicit purpose of protecting their ego, insisting that they are all looking in the same right direction, always highlighting their self-recognition, self-achievement, self-importance – essentially, their self.

Today we are facing a global crisis in leadership, more than ever before, because we are avoiding the real reality, how things really are. We live by a pact to redefine what reality is that closely corresponds to how we like to see things, rather how things actually are. This, unfortunately, is a fallacious belief on our part.   

In fact, it is astonishing that most global decision-makers are not even aware that they lead their organisations utterly narcissistically, with fatal consequences for the organisation, the investors and all other stakeholders. Although a large number of scientists, psychologists, psychiatrists and renowned leadership experts are convinced that every leader should have at least a degree of narcissism, this is partly an illusion and fatal miscalculation.

We agree there are countless recognisable successful narcissists: Steve Jobs, Daniel Vasella, Paul Ricci, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, Brian Krzanich, Paul Otellini, Shantanu Narayen, Marisa Mayer, Tim Cook, John Chambers, Thorsten Heins and Stoppelman. How would it look if those same leaders produced the same expectations but which are purpose-driven, making meaning and sense, for surely then the global business world would not have to accept as many fatal self-assessments by narcissistic leader.

Interestingly, narcissism was identified by the early Church Fathers and later by theologians of the Middle Ages. Evagrius Pontus, a Christian monk from the 4th century, retreating into pure and total isolation, wrote of eight qualities that should be avoided by every monk at that time: gluttony, lasciviousness, greed, anger, sadness, laziness, vainglory and pride. Greek mythology also focussed intensively on narcissism, stating that self-assessment is to be sorely punished, along with insolence, arrogance, and self-sufficiency. The Greeks believed it was prudence, serenity and the recognition of one's own limits that were to be highly valued.

Since industrialisation, with the emergence of capitalism, absolutism accompanied this change in mentality, away from finding moralistic fame, toward excessive material interests. After classification in the manual of psychiatric disorders by the American Psychiatric Association, narcissistic personality disorders were defined as showing a consistent pattern of grandiosity – in fantasy or real behaviours – with a need for admiration, lack of empathy, lack of intuition and lack of true self-knowledge.

In fact it is us ‘people’ (essentially the entire society, shareholders, investors, and any other stakeholders) who demand the impossible be achieved by leaders and decision makers within a very short period. The question we must ask is why do we constantly seek more, seek higher and seek further if we barely comprehend what we have already achieved? 

The fact is, as long as we strive, compare and believe good value means more, better and of higher sensation and extraordinary excessiveness, as long as we ‘people’, and therefore all of society, fail to apply courage and trust necessary to be deliberate in self-awareness, we will always be lagging behind each other as someone will always have more. If we carry on believing that prestige, image, status quo and the extraordinary are what make us unique and bring us recognition, we will remain stuck in a fatal cycle. And it is then unlikely that narcissism will disappear.

There are nine features typical to a narcissistic personality:

  1. exaggeration of self-esteem
  2. permanent fantasies
  3. desire to be particularly unique as a human being
  4. a continuous quest for admiration and sensation
  5. a sense of entitlement
  6. exploitation of relationships to achieve personal goals
  7. lack of empathy; lack of intuition
  8. deep feelings of envy toward others
  9. arrogance

The occurrence of other personality disorders in conjunction with narcissism is extremely high. These criteria are especially heightened: the sense of shame, awkward embarrassment, pride and guilt and the endless perfectionism the ‘ego ideal’ of narcissists strongly characterises, what are often perceived by a number of ethical, moral de-personified ideals which a subculture of ‘super-ego’ form. These may be due to remnants from childhood, grandiose narcissism and satisfaction of object-libido.

Narcissistic crises leading to suicide can be caused by various triggers:

  1. separation and loneliness
  2. mortification
  3. examination
  4. a series of failures
  5. death of parents, particularly the mother
  6. advancing debt
  7. increasing addiction
  8. a web of lies
  9. anniversaries
  10. age and physical deterioration

This exalted conspicuousness often people  find the narcissist a full-lived or fantasised grandiose idea to maintain all the best in itself and nothing to require - which in turn is used to protect against feelings of invalidity, dependence and envy. In defence of their own feelings of nothingness and the void is as central nullity feelings to be understood, - which are felt in separations and failures that increasingly occur. This represents a considerable threat to the self-worth, which means it is a false self-knowledge.

We know today that about 70% of all employees leave a company because of their superiors. This is a major problem in the business world that, while still regarded as taboo, results in enormous costs and greatly reduces a company’s competitive advantage.

Although we know a great deal about how we could do differently and better, we do not act accordingly, because we fail to muster the necessary courage, clarity, awareness and compassion; because we are all too afraid of learning to learn differently, as that requires a fairly different approach from what we have previously learnt, studied, analysed and researched. But because we don’t understand, we keep keeping doing the same things over and over, not realising that we are not grasping the real effects of leadership anymore: purpose orientation and making meaning and sense, not money and self-elevation. Because we have simply redefined what is good and have passively agreed to anxiety, fear and the negative, we feel discouraged, and see situations unclearly, unconsciously and without compassion.  This removes us even further from reality and aggravates the condition under which we, consciously or unconsciously, are suffering.

We allow ourselves to be persuaded by habitual ‘intellect’ and outdated ‘logic’ rather than understanding what we are doing well. The question is not how we can continue to deal better with the familiar and the expected so that these become further embedded in our thought process. It is a question of how to find courage, clarity, compassion and consciousness so that we can let in the unknown and the unexpected.  It is rather the question of how we deal with the unfamiliar and unexpected, so that we allow the unusual and the unexpected to cultivate more understanding and internal security.

If conflict has bogged leaders down, a change of perspective can help. If narcissists are stubbornly defending themselves against the unexpected, perhaps mindful advice helps. For the future, courage and confidence are necessary to encourage us to let go and better accept what is. Even if society and the economy stubbornly oppose this acceptance, we must remember that it is possible when we do what we intuitively feel is right and rely on our intuition, our empathy, and our self-knowledge.

Clearly the integration of stillness is essential in the future. We must cultivate serenity, safety, security, and inspiration to feel understood and cultivate a deep sense of purpose. This calls for an entirely new rethink in regards to leadership, requiring that we learn differently in the future. With this inner balance, in our deepest inner-self, as we go along as decision makers, we can learn again to find access into ourselves and find the confidence to accept ourselves as we are. Then we will be able to perform authentically and activate our inner strength. We regain our inner balance and access to our potential entirely. 

Through traditional mindfulness practices, we can cultivate inner silence and develop trust in our instincts and impulses. Through real games, in which we can truly be human internally, we can regain the experience that everything is fine and has its place in creation. This springs forth a new well-being in life and in the work environment, the cultivation of welfare.

This inner balance helps us better with the global leadership challenges of the 21st century, which must be received positively by narcissists at the end of the day, because there is no other way than to let go. Because the continuous complexity and the enormous speed, it is no longer convenient for narcissists in this environment to remain successful and demand stubbornly for fame, prestige, image and recognition, at the expense of others.

Even today many are still convinced that leaders and decision-makers must be narcissistic, even as they jeopardise and often bring risk to the company´s survival. Narcissists are the last species in the 21st century, because they will remain alone and be abandoned within each organisation, society and other stakeholder because, simply put, they will no longer be tolerated.

In the 21st century, narcissists must learn to learn differently, must learn to be ‘other’-centred; learn that leadership encompasses moral values, mindful virtues and qualities to inspire and move people; to encourage and guide them with serenity towards a great idea with purpose, meaning, sense and strong significance. This also includes calmness rather than aggression, being at ease, keeping one´s inner balance, expressing inspiration, respect, generosity, openness to critics, careful listening, relationship-orientation, supporting involvement and empowerment, empathy, intuition, and a cessation of striving and comparing as a means to achieve greatness.

This requires a radically different conceptualisation of leadership. We can consciously decide whether we want to rely on our mental constructs or on our mindful perception. This is our choice.

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