The antidote to narcissism?

The antidote to narcissism? Becoming an Ethical Leader
(574 words: reading time just over 5 minutes)

Detail from Doug Aitkin Video installation “Inside You”, Louisiana Gallery, Denmark 2002.

Narcissism has become part of everyday speech, and is often used pejoratively.‘He’s a narcissistic leader’ or ‘you’d expect that of her, she’s just narcissistic’ (tho interestingly, the term seems almost always to be applied to male not female leaders).

We assume we understand narcissism, but it is a very complex concept. There are at least seven different ways narcissism is described just within the psychoanalytic community. A massively oversimplified application often comes as a judgement, not recognising that narcissism is something we can all succumb to. It’s not an either or, it is a continuum. At one end we have a person with narcissistic personality disorder, who may also be borderline psychopath. At the other end we have normal people who may react to some form of narcissistic wound.

It seems that the current atmosphere within the public sphere encourages binary thinking, splitting off the bad in myself and projecting it onto others. The narcissistic wound is when I feel something core to my identity is being attacked. My sense of who I am. Of course, this may be the ‘false self’ as Winnicott describes it. Nevertheless it feels real, and boy it feels like a wound.

If I see the other as attacking, and I take up this offence, then it becomes impossible for me to empathise with them. Now please understand me, I am not arguing that one should empathise with everyone. This could be dangerous. However nursing the narcissistic wound cuts me off from the possibility of empathy.

So what is the antidote to my own narcissism and proclivity to a narcissistic wound?

Becoming an Ethical Leader.

Peter Koestenbaum and Joe Lafferty in Conversation

My friend and mentor Peter Koestenbaum, describes this in beautiful simplicity in his Leadership Diamond® model. A leader must keep two polarities in equilibrium to be successful. Reality <-> Vision and
Courage <-> Ethics. Right now, i’m focusing on Ethics.

The Ethical leader is able to see beyond himself or herself. (S)he does not relate everything back to themselves. It is the opposite of narcissism. The ethical leader is willing to share the blame for failures, not just project blame onto others. The ethical leader is able to see things from the others point of view, and, critically feel something of what they feel. They also have a deep desire to understand others, and are willing to suspend judgement until they fully understand.

The ethical leader does not use people as means towards an end. Much of the epidemic of stress in todays workplace is because we have developed cultures in our organisations that use and abuse people to the detriment of their health and well being: so long as they keep delivering ‘results’.

Peter says that the Ethical leader is a mentor and teacher. This is the desire to see others flourish and grow; taking practical steps to see the other develop, even if it takes them out of my organisation. Mentoring and teaching demonstrates a high degree of commitment and loyalty to investing in another. Employees are not ‘human resources’ but human beings.

So, next time you see yourself as the victim, where you feel the narcissistic wound, rather than react, why not look to the experience as an opportunity to get out of yourself, empathise with the other, look for an opportunity to be of service, and step into a greater expression of Ethical Leadership.

Screenshot of Peter Koestenbaum leadership reflection, 26th February, 2018.

Joe Lafferty, Lifetree