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Authors: M Maccoby
Published by: Harvard Business Publishing
Published in: "Harvard Business Review", 2000

Abstract

Today''s business leaders maintain a markedly higher profile than their predecessors did in the 1950s through the 1980s. Rather than hide behind the corporate veil, they give interviews to magazines like Business Week, Time, and the Economist. According to psychoanalyst, anthropologist, and consultant Michael Maccoby, this love of the limelight often stems from their personalities--in particular, what Freud called a narcissistic personality. That is both good and bad news: Narcissists are good for companies that need people with vision and the courage to take them in new directions. But narcissists can also lead companies into trouble by refusing to listen to the advice and warnings of their managers. So what can the narcissistic leader do to avoid the traps of his own personality? First, he can find a trusted sidekick. Good sidekicks can point out the operational requirements of the narcissistic leader''s often grandiose vision and keep him rooted in reality. Second, the narcissistic leader can get the people in his organization to identify with his goals, to think the way he does, and to become the living embodiment of the company. Finally, if narcissistic leaders can be persuaded to undergo therapy, they can use tools such as psychoanalysis to help overcome vital character flaws. With the dramatic discontinuities going on in the world today, more and more large corporations are finding there is no substitute for narcissistic leaders. For companies whose narcissistic leaders recognize their limits, these will be the best of times. For other companies, these could be the worst.

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Abstract

Today''s business leaders maintain a markedly higher profile than their predecessors did in the 1950s through the 1980s. Rather than hide behind the corporate veil, they give interviews to magazines like Business Week, Time, and the Economist. According to psychoanalyst, anthropologist, and consultant Michael Maccoby, this love of the limelight often stems from their personalities--in particular, what Freud called a narcissistic personality. That is both good and bad news: Narcissists are good for companies that need people with vision and the courage to take them in new directions. But narcissists can also lead companies into trouble by refusing to listen to the advice and warnings of their managers. So what can the narcissistic leader do to avoid the traps of his own personality? First, he can find a trusted sidekick. Good sidekicks can point out the operational requirements of the narcissistic leader''s often grandiose vision and keep him rooted in reality. Second, the narcissistic leader can get the people in his organization to identify with his goals, to think the way he does, and to become the living embodiment of the company. Finally, if narcissistic leaders can be persuaded to undergo therapy, they can use tools such as psychoanalysis to help overcome vital character flaws. With the dramatic discontinuities going on in the world today, more and more large corporations are finding there is no substitute for narcissistic leaders. For companies whose narcissistic leaders recognize their limits, these will be the best of times. For other companies, these could be the worst.

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