Betrayal is inevitable and certain for any leader. What is uncertain, however is our response to it. I have learned that not facing wounds of betrayal from abandonment or abuse causes me to build up walls of defenses for self protection. The result over time is that I become self focused. OK, we are all narcissistic-the only question is to what degree.
Here are four early warning signs of becoming narcissisitic that I have noticed in my own life and leadership:
1. Lack of humility. When I have derailed or plateaued, failure to learn was almost always a factor. It is a danger to think my past success would be enough to succeed in my new leadership position. When I arrived and already “knew it all” or was “the expert”, pride had already taken deep root. Lack of humility manifests itself in two learning disabilities identified by Watkins (2003):
- Action imperative. This is a learning disability whose primary symptom is a compulsive need to take action and prove oneself. Times when I suffer from this malady I am habitually anxious and too busy to devote time to relationships and systematic learning.
- Arriving with “the answer”. Perhaps most destructive of all learning disabilities, I arrived with my mind made up about how to solve and fix problems in people and in the organization. #fail
2. Lack of curiosity. Lack of humility is often followed by lack of curiosity. When I think I already know it all, my curiosity and hunger to learn are curbed. I lack interest in engaging and listening to the perspective of others. I may have learned about the people and the organization, but I failed to learn with or from others, especially direct reports.
3. Lack of honor. All people have inherent dignity because they are created in the image of God. Each has unique and distinct gifts, abilities and talents. I fail to honor others when I value them only for what they produce for me or what they contribute to the organization’s strategic plan and mission.
4. Lack of love. In the end, a narcissistic leader fails to love and care for others. After betrayal, abandonment and criticism, it is a temptation to care only for myself. It was safer to become emotionally detached in order to avoid harmful effects of being vulnerable to criticism and the desires of others. However, leadership is all about relationship. As Strauch (2006) points out with his explanation of Divine Math:
What other warning signs would you add?
Next blog: How to avoid becoming a self-absorbed, narcissistic leader. What tips or practices do you suggest?
Allender, D. (2006). Leading with a limp: Turning your struggles into strengths. Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook Press.
Strauch, A. (2006). A Christian leader’s guide to leading with love. Littleton, CO: Lewis and Roth Publishers
Watkins, D. (2003). The first 90 days: Critical success strategies for new leaders at all levels. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing.