We vs. ME

2010 September 3

I’m often struck by the contradictions inherent in the powerful messages we’re bombarded with on a daily basis. One example is the emphasis on being thin (especially for women) contrasted with the constant barrage of ads from the food industry marketing foods that will make you fat, (if they don’t kill you first).

Another contradiction is the one between the veneration of the stars in the technology business and the fact that great businesses are built by teamwork. Stars tend to be narcissistic over-achievers who are charismatic self-promoters. Their success often magnifies the issue because they attribute it to their brilliance. We’ve all heard about Steve Jobs’ RDF “reality distortion field.” In a rare case like Apple this uneasy dynamic seems to work because Jobs is the founder and has an unusual amount of control. In other cases an overly-narcissistic leader can bring down a company.

A great article from the Harvard Business Review outlines the weaknesses of narcissistic leaders:

  • Sensitive to Criticism
  • Poor Listeners
  • Lack of Empathy
  • Distaste for Mentoring
  • An Intense Desire to Compete

Sound familiar? Anyone who’s worked for someone like this knows none of these qualities is conducive to building a great team.

A blogger/therapist relates this to corporate acquisitions: “CEO’s who suffer from overconfidence tend to make bad acquisitions. A narcissistic CEO is more likely to overpay for a company he wants to acquire, is more likely to act on impulse, and is more likely to overestimate his ability to manage the new company and to integrate its operations with the old company.” This too sounds familiar to those of us who worked at AOL in 2000.

In a recent blog post, Ben Horowitz describes “The Right Kind of Ambition,” which distinguishes between Me and We. He outlines an interview technique where you compare the number of times the interviewee uses “Me” or “I” versus the number of times they use “We” or “Us.” It turns out that therapists actually use the same technique for diagnosing narcissism.

Narcissistic leaders are not a new phenomenon. The blogs quoted above menti0n Napolean, Churchill, Ghandi. But, as Macoby points out, “narcissists thrive in chaotic times.”

‘Nuff said.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS