Narcissism and Leadership

I’ve been thinking about narcissism and leadership. At a recent clergy conference on narcissism and ministry, my colleague Michael Nel suggested that we all have a little narcissism in us, as Murray Bowen suggested we all have some schizophrenia in us (and we all have cancer cells in our bodies). And perhaps it’s not a completely bad thing. To be a leader, you darn well better be sure of yourself. Self-confidence and internal clarity are not narcissistic but can be viewed as such. What do you think? Perhaps the difference between adaptive narcissism, as psychiatrist Mark McClung puts it, and pathological narcissism, is that we’re on this side of the mental health line if we can relate to others in a way that’s not just about us, and if we can laugh at ourselves. See my full newsletter article on this topic here.

3 replies on “Narcissism and Leadership

  • sean

    I like the quote that encourages us to take neither criticsm or praise too seriously. I have done fairly well over the years or learning to take critique with a “grain of salt”, but needed to be reminded that praise should also be accepted with temperance. Great Blog Margaret! Sean H

  • admin

    Point taken, Israel. I’m assuming there is a continuum. I remember “The Guns of Will Sonnet,” too–perhaps “no brag, just fact” is a useful approach, particularly in the church where false humility is often valued highly (another form of excessive interest in appearance, perhaps?).


  • IGalindo

    Given that the qualifier for narcissism is “excessive” self-love and “excessive” interest in appearance, I’d have to say that the term is probably not the best to use for the kind of stance advocated. Narcissism suggests a self-concept disconnected from reality. And while we all tend to have an unrealistic perception of self to some extent or the other, I’d say narcissism would be off the scale of the norm, or healthy. “Adaptive narcissism” is a nice literary hook, but I don’t find it too helpful.

    Many years ago I enjoyed a TV show titled “The Guns of Will Sonnet” (it ran from 1967-1969). It was a journey saga involving a father and his grandson searching for the senior’s lost son. The father (played by a grizzled Walter Brennan) would often have occasion to say, “I’m the fastest gun in the West. No brag, just fact.” I suspect that stance and unapologetic self-definition is more in keeping with strong, self-assured leadership than a narcissistic one.


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