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


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.


Three leadership books ‘favorited’ by executive business students in Miami

July 23, 2014

Miami July 2014 003

A group of executive MBA students in Miami selected three books as having influenced their personal leadership thinking and actions

The books add to results in a data base of books nominated by executive students around the world in upwards of 200 workshops conducted each year.

Long walk to freedom by Nelson Mandela

This classic has been frequently nominated for our data base. It was chosen by the student team for its insights into ‘a moral and unique leader…..the book has inspired me by encompassing all aspects of moral leadership

The servant by James Hunter

This is a book on servant leadership. ‘The essence of leadership is serving the needs of others’. Leadership is characterized as authority through intention plus action. The book was chosen ‘because it worked for me..

Creativity Inc by Ed Catmull

The third selection was Creativity Inc, by Ed Catmull, head of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation. It is the account of leadership in Pixar, one of the world’s creative organizations and pioneer of screen animation with Disney. The nomination was for its suggestions for ‘leadership encouraging the best from others’


Dilemmas of leadership: Test your judgement on creative leadership

June 5, 2014

Dilemmas of Leadership 2nd EdnTest your judgement on this five minute quiz on creative leadership. The questions are based on the chapter on creative leadership in the textbook Dilemmas of Leadership.

The challenge

A sample of students helped ‘test the test’ and scored around 60% (3-10 range).

Click this link to find the quiz


Maya Angelou: She did not remain mute

May 30, 2014

I know why the caged bird sings

Words, voice, intellect, vision combine to give us Maya Angelou’s moving story

Maya Angelou [Marguerite Annie Johnson, 1928-1014] died peacefully this week at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, U.S. Her Words, voice, intellect, vision combine to give us Maya Angelou’s moving story.

US President Barack Obama has led the tributes to Maya Angelou, describing the poet, author and activist as “one of the brightest lights of our time”. He hailed Angelou, who has died aged 86, as “a brilliant writer, a fierce friend and a truly phenomenal woman”.

Mr Obama gave her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian award, in 2011. He said: “Over the course of her remarkable life, Maya was many things – an author, poet, civil rights activist, playwright, actress, director, composer, singer and dancer.

“But above all, she was a storyteller – and her greatest stories were true.

A very public figure

Maya Angelou became a very public figure. Her achievements defy simple enumeration or ranking. Maya speaks of it most eloquently in her six major autobiographical works, including I know why the caged bird sings.

The words influenced a political movement, and inspired a generation of Americans as she gave witness to the possibility of personal triumph over the most severe and cruel circumstances of her early life.

Her words resonate with emotional power and yet without a trace of sentimentality or self-pity. They are neither humble nor hindered by any intruding egoism:

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.

You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.

Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.

Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.

I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way (s)he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.

Maya Angelou, RIP


AstraZeneca takeover by Pfizer. Where do you stand?

May 12, 2014

LWD subscriber Professor Gordon Pearson has set up a petition to the UK’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, demanding they refer Pfizer’s takeover of AstraZeneca to the Competition and Markets Authority for clearance. You are invited to the debate

The petition

The takeover of AstraZeneca would be destructive of competition, lead to further abuse of the NHS and of public health, result in massive tax avoidance in UK and the US as well as damaging the national interest in terms of high quality jobs, research and science. The mechanisms for preventing such a damaging takeover are in place but are being ignored. The Competition and Markets Authority was set up by this government with the prime duty “to promote competition, both within and outside the UK, for the benefit of consumers.” Referring the deal to the CMA should be the very first step for the government to take.

If you agree with this analysis, you can sign the petition though this link.

The debate is already raging in the UK. The leaders of Pfizer and of AstraZeneca, and Vince Cable are due to appear before a parliamentary committee as this post is being prepared.

A Guardian article suggests questions that should be asked by the committee members.

Questions for Ian Read, chief executive of Pfizer

1 How can you guarantee this takeover will not jeopardise Britain’s position in scientific research and development?
2 Are you doing this primarily to avoid a multimillion dollar tax bill in the US?
3 On what grounds would you go hostile?
The proposed £63bn takeover is in the “friendly” stage. AstraZeneca has turned down three approaches and under British takeover rules Pfizer must put in a formal offer by 26 May.

Questions for Pascal Soriot, chief executive of AstraZeneca

1 What reassurances can you give that British R&D will continue to prosper under a stand-alone AstraZeneca?
2 If you survive this bid, what assurances can you give us that you won’t fall prey to another takeover in the future?
3 You have repeatedly rejected Pfizer’s offers and said you want to remain an independent company, yet you have asked the government not to intervene to protect you. Why?

Questions for Vince Cable, business secretary

1 How are you going to ensure this does not become another Cadbury-Kraft fiasco?
2 Is the coalition split on how to react to the deal?
3 Does the government have the legal right to intervene?

Your comments and views (whether you agree or disagree) will be welcomed by other subscribers to Leaders we deserve.


Ford gets its succession planning right with Alan Mulally and now Mark Fields

May 2, 2014

Ford seems to have managed the transition from dynastic leadership well, beginning with the appointments of Alan Mulally and now Mark Fields. The appointment even succeeded in exorcising the ghost of the anti-Semitism of its founder, a Century earlier

My inclination is to test leadership stories for their hidden side. So this feel-good story of leadership success appeared to require rigorous testing. After all, I reasoned, The Ford PR department would want to project a good-news story. I was pleasantly surprised. For once they had little need for any great display of the dark arts of their profession.

A balanced scorecard

I first came across the story in The Detroit News, which is a bit like going to the Vatican for a balanced scorecard on the Pope’s leadership achievements. The News [May 1st 2014] tells how close the mighty Ford Empire was to extinction in 2006. The last throw was for the dynasty to euthanize itself and appoint Alan Mulally, a well-chosen Ford insider, but not a scion of the Ford family:

”We’ve had very few, maybe ever, a planned and smooth transition, all the way back to my great-grandfather,” William Ford Jr. said from the [Corporate headquarters, Thursday April 30th]. Mulally, 68, came to Ford from Boeing Co. in September 2006 to engineer one of the greatest business turnarounds in American history. When he retires July 1, and Fields, 53, assumes the CEO position for which he was passed over eight years ago, it will truly be the final act of Mulally’s historic reign in Dearborn.

Leadership chops

Other articles recounted a similar tale of two great leadership appointments. The headline in the Autonews article suggested that Fields has ‘the leadership chops’ which roughly translated is leadership presence and ability’ to silence critics

Critics?

Criticism of Fields has been mild, and Mostly about him being an MBA and a Harvard MBA. And a hint that he has been known to square-up physically in meetings when things go wrong.

The exorcism

There were a few mentions of the fact that Ford had put to rest the anti-Semitism that haunted the company since the days of its founder Henry Ford. My source, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency has the same reputation for balanced reporting as the as the mythical Vatican agency with its gleeful headline “Take that, Henry Ford! Car company goes from anti-Semitic founder to new Jewish COO” on Fields’ promotion in 2012.

The succession plan

Bill Ford’s comments showed more than a hint of satisfaction at the succession planning that went so well.

“From the first day we discussed Ford’s transformation eight years ago, Alan and I agreed that developing the next generation of leaders and ensuring an orderly CEO succession were among our highest priorities,” Ford said. “Mark has transformed several of our operations around the world into much stronger businesses during his 25 years at Ford. Now, Mark is ready to lead our company into the future as CEO.”

Behind the headlines

Behind the headlines there are interesting issues to be considered. Is the story just great leadership from the time the last Ford in the dynasty,saw it was time to introduce an outsider? Then great leadership by Mulally in turning around the behemoth organization, and now the prospect of a third great leader, Mark Fields at the top? If so, we have a traditional account in the spirit of natural born leaders. Or again, we might wish to examine the story as an example of distributed leadership, which is more likely to defuse power struggles and encourage corporate morale.

For Fordists everywhere

Those wishing to, can purchase from the Detroit News a framed photo of Alan Mulally shaking hands with Mark Fields, with a beaming Bill Ford looking on.

To be continued


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