Why is it that all too often those in command and management roles have a narcissistic character? Are they chosen specifically or is it just a normal natural selection? What to do to avoid falling into the trap of narcissism.
How many times we have been attracted by the charisma of a person for his magnetic, engaging, chat qualities and the ability to feel totally at ease with the reflectors on. These are people with innate (or developed over the years) ability to move crowds, whether through a screen or in front of an audience. They are community leaders of various types, from religious to scientific ones, from that about UFO studies to literary circles. They can be company managers, team supervisors, trainers, teachers or head physician in a hospital department. No matter the field of action and the subject, they have one thing in common: leadership. But what is it exactly?
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
John Quincy Adams
Innate or acquired skill?
First of all, what is this uncatchable leadership? According to various definitions, it is the ability to guide, direct people. It is also translated as “command“. According to expert sociologists, the leader should hypothetically inspire, motivate, influence using appropriate communication, his/her subordinates without imposing him/herself, without using blackmail, threats, force or authoritarian methods. This idealistically speaking. Is it possible to learn how to be leaders? There are countless courses, books, videos, articles, seminars that teach how to be excellent leaders. From antiquity to the present day, starting with books like The Art of War by Sun Tzu, passing through Machiavelli‘s The Prince to Robert Greene’s 48 laws of power, someone has been involved in defining the guidelines to be the perfect leader.
So we can somehow say that leadership is something that can be learnt. The following question arises: can everyone learn it? In my humble opinion, I believe that a good deal of “innate” ability is necessary. By innate I do not mean that one is already born with the ability to guide and inspire others, usually, these are qualities developed during the first years of life including adolescence. So the family, school, sports and social background are fundamental. But even those who find themselves with this gift are well-advised to do their best to get the best results, as long as it is in their best interest to exploit it.
Leadership and command
According to many authors, there is a substantial difference between the two. I try to explain it with a simple example: the boss is that one who sends his men to war, the leader instead fights alongside them. The boss commands, in fact, gives orders and expects them to be executed, otherwise, he/she uses means such as blackmail, threats, punishments and intimidation. He/she does not expect to be loved, he/she prefers to be feared. The boss does not adapt the means and objectives to the needs of the subordinates but forces them to adapt to its means and objectives. He/she is authoritarian, cold, calculating, manipulative and unscrupulous, he/she follows the principle of divide and conquers, putting the subordinates against each other.
The leader, on the other hand, puts himself in the shoes of the guided ones, gets his/her hands dirty with them, knows how to listen, does not impose himself but leads with patience. He/she has authority but is not authoritarian, he knows how to adapt the means to needs of the subordinates and know how to motivate them constantly to achieve the goals together. He/she cares about teamwork and acts as team glue.
The boss acts for fear of not being obeyed, of being ousted or screwed in some way. The leader does not have this fear because he/she can face any inconvenience. And this is the substantial difference between the two: the boss identifies him/herself with his/her role, lives with fear and paranoia, he/she is insecure, needs total submission to feel fulfilled, self-confident. The leader, on the other hand, lives on trust and balance, is self-confident, does not identify with his role, does not seek submission but collaboration because it is realized regardless of the behaviour of others.
It is clear that these two figures described in this way are deliberately extreme in their characters: there is no one who is a pure boss or a pure leader, there are only infinite nuances with some features of that and a bit of the other. But the basic concept does not change.
“He was like a cock who thought the sun had risen to hear him crow.”
“Narcissus, words of butter”
According to some dictionaries, narcissism is the “unnatural or pathological cult of one’s own person”. By extension, it is an “attitude that tends to exhaust the personality in the exclusive consideration and exaltation of oneself”, which makes the victim unable to have empathy for others. Practically, the narcissist does nothing but exalting himself, diminishing others, because, fundamentally, he/she does not love him/herself. They don’t like themselves, indeed very often they hate themselves, but they hide it because they cannot accept it, so they use exaltation of themselves as a means of not seeing their own misery.
When they feel attacked, they react with a sense of superiority, arrogance and contempt, discharging responsibility for their actions on others. Since they feel inferior and highly vulnerable to criticism, they always avoid confrontation. They are competitive people, who get excited about being able to show to the world that they are better than others. Ultimately, a narcissist is one who despises him/herself so much that he/she exalts him/herself; narcissist seeks the admiration of others to be at peace with him/herself since he/she by him/herself is capable only of self-destruction.
It is easy to imagine how harmful a narcissistic leader is. Yet we actually find many that have important roles in large companies, NGOs, cooperatives, multinationals, prayer groups, religious communities, hospitals, scientific communities, cultural associations and so on. But then, if they are pathological, destructive and harmful elements, why do they get managerial and important roles, why do they make them manage other people?
Everything is useful
First of all, it must be said that narcissists throw themselves, body and soul, into positions of leadership. Whether they are working, within a volunteer group or in a simple circle of friends, it’s the same. This already puts them in the forefront compared to others who, perhaps, do not want to show off or have responsibility. The paradox is that the narcissist does not see the responsibilities of the role he/she will play, he/she only conceives the “glory” of being in charge. This makes them cunning and fearless, unable to see the real difficulties and burdens of this position.
Moreover, those who choose them as leaders often need figures that can easily be manipulated by them and are unscrupulous enough to squeeze the subordinates. Let us remember that we live in a capitalist country, where the most important thing is, alas, the economy of the capital. A company, whatever it may be, has the sole purpose of increasing turnover, it is precisely the economic law that imposes it. In order to achieve this, a leader must be willing to do almost everything. Having people capable of anything to maintain their “prestige” role is an excellent weapon to use.
Obviously not everyone, reasonably, thinks like this. Yet it also happens in situations where there are no economic laws involved, such as religious communities and voluntary groups, cooperatives, ufological societies and so on. I myself lived in a religious community for 7 years and often, but not always thank God, those community leaders were narcissists. The answer given by the General Manager was always the same: leave it to Providence. In the meantime, people have remained psychologically burned, plagiarism complaints have rained down, there has been a very serious case of paedophilia and people still talk about abuse of power. I really don’t believe that Providence wanted this. I mean, why are these things happening?
How to break the circle
We can get out
We all are a bit of Narcissus, some more than others. The problem is when you suffer from the narcissistic personality disorder, or a pathology that must be treated with the help of a specialist. The fact is that NO narcissist admits and understands that he is sick. They usually go to therapy when an important part of their life collapses and they go into crisis. In the best case. In the worst case, they destroy themselves by dragging someone else behind them. What is the remedy for defending yourself from narcissists? Simple, send them into crisis! Hahahahah no, I’m kidding. The narcissist has power only if we give it to him/her. You could rightly object: “but my boss at work HAS power, I can’t do anything about it”.
Not really true, there are many ways to neutralize a narcissist. First of all, we must understand that if there is a narcissist in a position of power, he/she has real followers, otherwise, he/she would not be there. Even just a small group, but still a fan club. On one side, if someone begins to nourish the ego of a narcissist, well, there is little to do, he/she deserves a narcissist in his/her life. I don’t want to sound bad, but it is absolutely useless to try to wake up the victim of a narcissist: he/she will wake up when he/she is ready. No one has the power to save anyone.
Those who are not part of that fun club and have to deal with the narcissist every day, can choose many paths: fighting him/her openly, waging war on his/her back, talk to his/her superiors, seniding him/her remarks, teasing him/her in public, incite his/her own comrades against him. All of these are ways to feed the already disproportionate ego of the narcissist! In fact, he seeks nothing but war, having enemies, because this makes him/her feel important, gives meaning to his/her daily battle against the world that hates him/her so much.
One of the most effective techniques is surely to belittle everything. And I’m not saying to belittle the narcissist, but his/her role, the things he/she says, his/her situation. Passing us by everything, almost as if he/she had not said it. There is nothing worse, for a narcissist, than to feel ignored, because he/she follows the precept “many enemies, much honour” and also the saying “there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about”. But if one takes away the pedestal on which the narcissist is seated, and considers him/her for his/her real value, less than zero, the narcissist loses all his strength and his power. It may be objected that we cannot ignore requests or orders with which we do not agree, but I repeat that there is always a way.
It is not a question of techniques, strength or malice: it is a question of cutting the nourishment of the ego to the root. We just need to understand what feeds the narcissists, what makes them strong, full of themselves, bold and then neutralize them. I call it: water technique. The Tao Te Ching says, about it: “Under heaven nothing is more soft and yielding than water. Yet for attacking the solid and strong, nothing is better”. Same for us: being soft, mobile, making people believe that the other has the sharp end of the knife, because, even if he/she sinks the knife, its blade can do nothing against the water, and in the meantime, drop by drop, we break down that rock so crumbly, already cracked inside by years of self-destruction. It is not a technique, it is a philosophy of life. Everyone has to find his/her ways, but once done, no narcissist can ruin your life anymore.