Is Narcissism always a bad thing?

August 12, 2014

NarcissusNarcissism is often associated with ‘the dark side of leadership’. Recent studies offer a revised perspective

A review in The Economist [March 22nd, 2014] was entitled Narcissism: Know thy selfie. It reviewed two recent books on Narcissism: Mirror, Mirror: the uses and abuses of self-love, by Simon Blackburn, and The Americanization of Narcissism, by Elizabeth Lunbeck.

Lasch and the Culture of Narcissism

In examining these books it is worth going back to the psychodynamic treatment of Narcissism by Christopher Lasch. It is worth revisiting this classic study as the critic As Siegel summarized the work:

in “The Culture of Narcissism,” Lasch took what was still mainly a narrowly clinical term and used it to diagnose a pathology that seemed to have spread to all corners of American life. In Lasch’s definition (drawn from Freud), the narcissist, driven by repressed rage and self-hatred, escapes into a grandiose self-conception, using other people as instruments of gratification even while craving their love and approval. Lasch saw the echo of such qualities in “the fascination with fame and celebrity, the fear of competition, the inability to suspend disbelief, and the shallowness and transitory quality of personal relations.

The full-on connection between narcissism and many of the evils of modern society was always likely to attract a revisionary accounts such as those of Blackburn and Lubeck.

Narcissism and balance

Blackburn argues that a ‘healthy’ self-image is bounded at one pole by excessive self-regard, and at the other pole by lack of adequate self-image. This adds needed nuance to the Lasch position, as well as to the popular connection between narcissism and the dark side of charismatic leadership. His plea is for positioning the individual more carefully in their context. The prevailing view of egotistical leaders may have slipped too much into polarisation. Where he is closest to Lasch is in his cutting observations of advertising which seeks to bolster the self-image of the consumer (Blackburn takes the ‘because you are worth it’ message of L’Oreal as an example]

‘Good narcissism’

Lunbeck adds the point that the neo-Freudians have tended to focus on narcissism as bad, and that Lasch contributed this cultural belief. Freud, she argues, saw the development of self-regard as a form of ‘good narcissism’.

Narcissism as a dilemma

Both Blackburn and Lunbeck show us that narcissism may be more of a dilemma to be understood than a universal curse.

Suggestion to leadership tutors

Essay question: Is Narcissism a bad leadership characteristic? Discuss, drawing on the work of Simon Blackburn and Elizabeth Lunbeck


Capital, by John Lanchester, is a capital read

August 9, 2014

imageBook Review

The book jumped out and arrested my attention from the display at my local bookshop. The first impression was reinforced by Andrew, manager and supplier of the shop’s excellent cookies.

Capital, he said, had wowed his book-reading group. He then insisted on reading an extract as I consumed one of his units of production – a chocolate cookie – together with a less than skinny Latte. Of course, I was also thinking of another book. A century ago, [1867] Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital, one of the most influential books of all time and which translates into Capital.

Andrew and his excellent Latte made it a done deal. I left a shop with a copy of this novelby the English writer John Lanchester, set in London in the period approaching the great financial crisis of 2008.

It was published in 2012, shortly before the arrival pf the best-selling economic analysis also entitled Capital, and written by the French economist Piketty. Lanchester, so Andrew told me, had chosen the title for its multiple meanings. The book was about economic capital, set in the Capital city, with ironic hints at capital meaning excellent. Duh.

In the book, a cast of interesting characters is assembled around Pepys Road, a suburban location that has through a twist of economic fate made the occupants rich simply because all the houses there ‘as if by magic, were now worth millions of pounds.’ The reader is warned in these words in the book’s prologue that this blissful state of affairs would not last. Nor did it. Most readers will need little reminding of the approaching financial devastation of 2008.

The writing is clear, deceptively easy to follow, and full of authoritative touches. The book is an enjoyable read. Its rather unobtrusive plot concerns mysterious and threatening messages received by the occupants of Pepys Road. Readers were led to believe they were from a creative estate agent, but this was discounted as the messages became darker. The police are called in.

Even more interesting is the unfolding of the personal stories of the characters who are deftly described with insight and empathy, from the over-extended financial executive, the football star from Senegal, the traffic warden, and the Pakistani family running the local shop.

Half-way through the book, I briefly began to feel that I was reading a story that had been rather too carefully constructed, one that would elegantly unfold towards a satisfactory resolution. There was a satisfactory closure that matched the subtlety of the plotting.

To say more would risk plot-spoiling. I can only add the first LWD review five star recommendation for this enjoyable and thought-provoking tale.

Recommendation for LWD subscribers: *****


Test your knowledge of charismatic leadership

August 7, 2014

Christmas Quiz

Test your knowledge of charismatic leadership with this brief ten-item quiz. It is based on the chapter on charismatic leadership in Dilemmas of Leadership.

Click here to try the test

If you have not read the chapter, a score of 5/10 suggests you already know some aspects of the subject.

A score of 10/10 suggests you should be helping in the revised test prepared for a forthcoming edition of the textbook.


Satya Nadella’s leadership dilemmas at Microsoft begin with Nokia

August 5, 2014

Paul Hinks

Satya Nadella

Satya Nadella

Satya Nadella became Microsoft’s third ever CEO in February 2014. He faces enormous challenges of change to an economic powerhouse

Since its inception 39 years ago, Microsoft has driven change. Its products have shaped and disrupted the IT landscape. Its desktop and server operating systems have become industry standards. Yet, relentless competition demands further changes. The new CEO recognizes the situation.

‘One Microsoft’

A few months into his appointment [10th July 2014], Nadella published an ‘internal memo ‘ in the public domain entitled: ‘One Microsoft’. The document provides insight into the strategic priorities at Microsoft – as well highlighting deeper leadership dilemmas. “The day I took on my new role I said that our industry does not respect tradition – it only respects innovation.” He wrote.

Changing landscapes and Microsoft’s previous success

Cloud Computing and Mobile technologies were focal points in the memo – repeated references to “a mobile-first and cloud-first world” emphasising where he feels Microsoft’s future lies.

A key dilemma and challenge for Nadella is that Microsoft no longer appears to be dominant in shaping the direction of the IT landscape. Microsoft’s desktop and server operating systems provide examples of different franchises that became de facto industry standards. Today we talk about firms such as Apple, Google and Amazon and how their products and services have momentum – the iPad, iPhone, Kindle, Android phones – as well various cloud services.

It isn’t that Microsoft hasn’t tried to succeed in these new marketplaces – it has. It’s just that Microsoft’s success doesn’t mirror the success of its competitors. Microsoft has attempted to break into the tablet market but Apple still leads the way. Windows mobile phones competes against Android phones and iPhones, but they do not enjoy the passionate following that their competition enjoys.

Microsoft Axes 18,000 jobs

The acquisition of Nokia in 2013 provides an example of Microsoft’s efforts. Nokia was itself a market leader in the mobile telecommunications market before suffering a number of setbacks which saw its products fall out of vogue. Some analyst at the time saw merit and synergy in Microsoft’s acquisition. However on Thursday [17th July 2014] the BBC reported that Microsoft was announcing a loss of 18,000 jobs globally – the bulk of the cuts to be at Nokia:

Microsoft pledged to cut $600m (£350.8m) per year in costs within 18 months of closing the acquisition – cuts that were much more severe than the 6,000 initially expected. Is this acknowledgement that the Nokia deal was ultimately a failure? Or is it an example of how knowledge, know-how and patented technology can be bought lieu of ethical leadership and employees’ livelihoods?

The Future direction of Microsoft?

Nadella and Microsoft appear to recognize the challenges ahead. Change is necessary. Cloud Computing infrastructures are maturing; mobile online access is now ubiquitous – Nedella’s memo acknowledges Microsoft’s need to adapt and respond – repeated references to “mobile-first and cloud-first world” provide a clear indication of where he sees Microsoft’s future. Will change at Microsoft result in the progress needed for Microsoft to remain a dominant force?

Bill Gates’ 1990 vision of ‘Information at your fingertips’, and then his keynote speech at Jan 1995 Comdex of ‘information at your fingertips ‘ provide evidence of how Microsoft’s first CEO led the way and helped shape an industry.

Nadella has one of the toughest jobs in the industry, made more challenging by an expectation that Microsoft can remain creative and innovate. Not an easy task.


The Commonwealth Games illustrates the potency and symbolic nature of sport

August 2, 2014

The Commonwealth Games takes place in Glasgow as Scotland temporarily suspends campaigning for its referendum next month on independence from the United Kingdom

The Games reminded me of the Christmas Day truce in World War One. Not that I was there personally for Glasgow or WW1. According to the legend, on Christmas Day 1914, British and German troops downed arms, left their trenches and played a football match before resuming battle.

Don’t mention the war

In Glasgow during the Games, it was very much ‘don’t mention the war for independence’. If so, the truce was successful. This was perhaps because it was not clear to either the Yes or the No campaign whether political posturing would lose much-needed votes.

Overall, the Games have proceeded in an atmosphere of scarcely- controlled hysteria. Hysteria among spectators; among adrenalized athletes gasping out their semi-coherent replies at interviews minutes after completing events (“tell us what you are feeling as poster-girl now you have failed to win a medal in your favorite event”); and above all, hysteria among the assembled ranks of the broadcast media.

Gilded and giddy commentators

The BBC had more than its fair share of gilded and giddy commentators interviewing athletes and proud parents. These were performances honed by BBC experience of numerous interviews with Andy Murray and celebrity mum Judy before, during and after Wimbledon fortnight over the last few years.

The Gold standard

Great efforts were made to preserve or even enhance the value of the gold standard. The actual events were represented as all equivalently-compelling and equivalently worth watching. After all, they all offered changes to win Gold. The prospect of winning ‘yet another gold’ was the dominant marketing offer from the start of the Games. Each session was going to be special as there were so many gold medals to be won. Somehow the discourse permitted at the same time acknowledgement of the equivalence and specialness of gold and of gold-medal winners, and the lower status silver and bronze medals . (Another image: the satirical sketch of the British class system beginning “I look up to him because he is upper class and I am middle class”).

All events are equal but some are more equal than others

I enjoyed most of the actual athletic events, particularly those that lasted fewer than several hours of running, cycling, or wheel-chairing around the track. You could keep your percentage time watching athletes up by ‘using the red button’. Otherwise you were faced with a choice of multi-tasking or taking full-on the high-intensity but very cozy chats between the assorted teams of BBC commentators and guests.

Soon our revels will be over

I multi-tasked, with mobile, tablet, and library book at the ready at all times. In a few days the Games truce will be over and the referendum campaigning will begin again.


Executive powers and creative license

July 31, 2014


Republican plans are announced to sue President Obama over abuse of executive powers. They are addressing the broader issue of leadership action and creative license

Effective leadership action often involves a creative insight. It may surprise and shock opponents into a claim the the action exceeds the legitimate powers granted.

This appears to be the claim behind the Republican move from the House of Representatives which was passed acrimoniously along party lines this week [July 2014] Speaker John Boehner denied it was a party political act, but one taken in defense of the Constitution. President Obama dismissed the action as a stunt.

Every President since George Washington

Every President since George Washington has deployed executive orders. It seems Obama is no more prolific than his predecessor and likely to be less active in this respect than the famously hands-off Ronald Reagan.

But that’s politics. Each side can make a case that is likely to be accepted by its supporters. The defense of democratic freedoms stumbles on.


Is Amazon under control or under the influence?

July 28, 2014

Bezos bullet train
Amazon announces disturbing financial figures. Its charismatic chairman Jeff Bezos will, as ever, be taking the long view

The mighty Amazon – the company not the river – may be in temporary trouble. Its second quarter sales reported on Thursday [24th July, 2014] showed powerful growth in revenues but unanticipated losses. The results worried the numbers people. Shares, already drifting downward, slumped around 10% on Wall Street the following day.

Taking the long view

Its founder and leader Jeff Bezos is famed for taking the long view. He is a business visionary who fitted the bill as a great leader for the near classic story he has helped bring about at Amazon. His leadership style is restless and remorseless.

He is noted for personal involvement and fermenting a culture of creative challenge. He also likes to ‘back-engineer’ strategy from a desired future to reach and deal with imminent decisions.

The immediate future

The immediate future suggests that his enthusiasm for innovation in the interests of that more distant future may have incurred costs for the present. The ideas at times have breath-taking simplicity. Sometimes there is an initial appearance of craziness that often accompanies great creativity. Think Steve Jobs, or Napoleon even.

This week, the craziness appears to be found in the diversity of effort which may suggest a lack of a cohesive plan. The results were timed to accompany the launch of the company’s new smartphone, the Fire Phone. Other recent plans have included grocery delivery, video streaming, and drone delivery of products.

Not to mention The Washington Post

Then there was the recent takeover of the Washington Post, with assurances from Bezos that under his ownership the newspaper will retain its independence, and certainly without influence brought to bear to advance Amazon’s interests.

Bezos is a fascinating business personality. He has created one of the Century’s most successful businesses with a simplicity of its core competence of rapid, safe product delivery at highly competitive prices. Perhaps its strategic trajectory constrains the creative impulses of its remarkable founder.

To be continued

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