In our discussions on leadership, it is impossible not to discuss narcissism and its effect on others. This week, we will discuss how a person enters the downward cycle away from constructive narcissism. How often do you see these patterns in your leadership circle, and how do you protect yourself from adopting unhealthy patterns?
Constructive narcissists are typically visionaries, energetic, hard charging and assertive. They take on significant and challenging endeavors. So far so good. But, if they fall into the patterns of destructive narcissism, they will leave a wake of relational and organizational destruction behind them. Thankfully, emotionally mature individuals stay on the constructive side of narcissism throughout their leadership tenure.
Things can quickly deteriorate if a leader’s narcissistic tendencies are not anchored in emotional maturity.
Though “mileage may vary” given the individual leader and his or her leadership context, the cycle of decline from constructive to destructive narcissism goes something like this.
1-From healthy self-assurance and well-founded confidence to overconfidence and superiority.
The constructive narcissistic leader’s vision, energy and self-assurance may lead to remarkable achievements and great success for the organization, which in turn expands their confidence. Healthy and growing confidence leads to more achievement, which in turn leads to even more confidence. Apart from a sufficient fund of emotional maturity, especially emotional realism, the leaders elevated confidence can easily drift into overconfidence. If success continues, the constructive narcissist’s self-assurance can morph into an attitude of superiority.
2-From superiority to grandiosity.
Overconfidence mixed with more success fuels a sense of indispensability. Self-assurance becomes self-promotion, and eventually drifts into grandiosity. Minus the constraint of emotional realism, the constructive narcissist now sees himself or herself as “special,” above others. They begin to believe their press clippings. They regard their judgment as all wise and their leadership as beyond critique. More and more followers agree, adding to the leader’s growing sense of superiority.
3-From grandiosity to emotional isolation.
The once-constructive narcissist has now reached new heights of success. They find themselves alone at the top, breathing the rarified air, now not merely alone, but isolated. They have few if any peers. But they find this splendid isolation to their liking as it “protects” them from the relationships and feedback that might challenge their emerging grandiosity and bring them back (down in their estimation) to the real world.
In our next discussion, we will see the downward spiral as it plummets into defensiveness and finally criticism. Check back to learn how you can identify and help those on the path to destructive narcissism.