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October 05, 2014


Dave Timoney

The use of terms such as hubris and narcissism should remind us that the theatre of corporate life remains wedded to ancient tropes of power.

One is the tale of the king who is sacrificed to ensure continued fertility. This suggests that in the case of some CEOs, their over-confidence and eventual demise is in part a willed projection of the organisation. In other words, businesses may be subconsciously promoting psychos because they better fit this narrative.

In the same way, CFOs often play the part of the wise counsellor, even when they're talking complete nonsense, not least because this image is selected for by headhunters and NEDs.


The essence of narcissism is operating in an imaginary world, which is largely about a self-image that is not based on reality but a narrative either developed by the individual or others (e.g. parents and social environment). The narcissist will only acknowledge (or reinterpret) aspects of reality that relate to or confirm the self-image. Because this will naturally conflict with reality, in smaller or larger degree depending on how unrealistic the self-image is, the narcissist is in constant need of external validation and insulation from reality feedback, i.e. negative feedback highlighting boundaries and constraints that conflict with the self-image. This is the link to authoritarian organizations, the main feature of which is the suppression of negative feedback, filtering only reports of success and confirmation of the top-down strategy. Negative reports are allowed as long as they are about the shortcomings of others outside the personal sphere of the narcissist. (E.g. "the strategy is successful but we hit a few challenges in its implementation".) This can work at the individual or group level.



"Narcissism, hubris and 'success'"

I know you didn't intend it, but that line perfectly describes some high-profile American economics professors extremely active on the Internet. :-)

Curt Doolittle

Sorry but you're making two catastrophic errors: 1) that rational argument is persuasive. That leadership of a body of people is rational. Only very naive people who lack experience as leaders make this error. Quite the contrary: mastering delivery, mastering body language. Mastering moral intuitions. Mastering not rhetoric but sermon is both difficult, an art, and mastery of leadership. I would enumerate the reasons why but this is the wrong forum. (b) Any reasonable student of Michels, Burnham, or the vast body of data on organisations would remind us of the obvious: that leadership is necessary, and great leaders are in fact worth their high cost to organisations.. Man is a tribal creature and a moral creature. Reason is a thin layer of justification and nothing more. We do not make great organisations by rational argument but by constructing a moral narrative in which all members are heroes.

Some people should get out more.

Curt Doolittle

More thoughts:

Just as a method actor practices his craft, the master of leadership does the same. Because the purpose is the same. A Reagan or a Blair practice it explicitly. A Clinton learns by repetition. A CEO by experimentation. Humans are exceptional at lie detection and the test of truth as unaudited passion. As such, like a method actor, and speaker, any CEO, learns that one must master the craft of acting by mastering the craft of feeling in the moment: genuine emotional expression.

Socialism In One Bedroom

There were loads of people at uni who had a sense of self entitlement, that they were better than those who 'failed' at school. They believed they had worked hard and because they had done well in their education the world was theirs and everybody else simply had to bow down to their greater knowledge.

But then those who became 'successful' without a great education also have this sense of entitlement.

I guess the system just breeds that way of thinking, it is hard wired into it, part of the fabric that keeps it ticking over.

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