Close this search box.
Close this search box.

In Leading Through Change, Narcissism Can Be An Organization’s Downfall

© AdobeStock
A culture that breeds separateness will only add fuel to the fire, while one that encourages personal connection will heal old wounds.

Perhaps more than ever, businesses, organizations and corporations of all sizes today are navigating constant change: the seemingly endless capabilities and impact of AI/smart machines, continued layoffs coupled with a shortage of skilled labor and top talent, and of course the challenge of literal workplace structures, and deciding between a remote workforce, some kind of hybrid schedule or a complete return to office.

In other words: Right now, it is essential for leaders to build a more personal connection with their people to avoid the failures of the narcissistic leader during challenge times that we’ve seen so many times before.

Psychology considers narcissism a psychological condition called narcissistic personality disorder, which usually arises because of emotional injury and trauma from shame, loss, deprivation and painful experiences in childhood. Research and brain scans show that the narcissist’s brain actually blocks off parts to protect itself based on traumatic experiences and painful memories. The brain literally creates separation and division at the neurological level, which I believe is a manifestation of the separation that a narcissist experiences.

At a deeper level the narcissist has moved from oneness to separateness. They feel separate, isolated and alone so they focus solely on protecting their separate self and only care about themself, not others. They lack empathy and concern for how their words or behavior affect others. It’s why narcissists make horrible leaders. As Maya Angelou said, “You can’t be much of a leader if all you see is yourself. A leader sees greatness in others.”

Not surprisingly, narcissism is also associated with a big, fragile ego that doesn’t handle criticism well, constantly seeking praise and admiration from others, and swallowing people’s energy like a black hole while also experiencing frequent depression and anxiety. The more a person feels separate, the more they will struggle with a variety of mental health conditions. When you understand how oneness and separateness affect the brain and thoughts, and how the brain and thoughts interact, it will make a lot of sense.

If we can get a narcissist to return to oneness and see themself as part of a bigger whole, they would feel more whole themself. If we can help them heal the trauma of the past and know they are loved, they would be able to heal their soul and brain in the process. Like the soul, the brain heals through connection, and this connection leads to restoration.

A mental coach talks with a musician and shares advice, but more importantly provides unwavering support and belief in them. The musician takes their performance to a whole new level. A team has a meeting after a series of tough losses and after some initial yelling and screaming, they get vulnerable and share what’s holding them back. They turn it around and go on an incredible win streak. A family sits together at a table every Sunday and discusses the challenges each person is facing and they come up with solutions together. Everyone walks away from the table feeling more confident and the family creates a lasting bond. A married couple takes a walk on the beach and talks about some of their issues and after fighting for a little bit they listen and vow to be better for each other.

In all these cases the connection that happens is more important than the advice, solution and words spoken. What’s happening at a deeper level is connection, unity and oneness. Each person is moving from the feeling of being separate and alone to feeling connected and one with each other. From this oneness, a feeling of love flows and healing and power is experienced that transforms the individual, the relationship, and the team.

HeartMath has conducted advanced research and found that when people are experiencing these types of connections there is a synchronization of the two hearts that begin to act as if they are one. We were created for connection. The latest research in relational psychology shows that we heal in connection. The research demonstrates the truth that we were never meant to be alone and separate. We are wired at the spiritual, soul, biological, and cellular level to become one, and when we do we experience greater power, connection, commitment and healing.

Separateness affects offices and organizations going through change. When change is occurring and communication is poor, uncertainty and fear arise and this leads to low states of mind and a feeling of greater separateness. As a result everyone focuses on themselves and not others. Members of management look out for themselves. Employees each try to protect themselves and as a result engagement plummets, people leave, and those who stay just try to hang on.

When you are in a low state and fearful, you focus on just trying to survive. You aren’t thinking about helping others thrive. Most change initiatives fail not because of the change or initiatives but because of the lack of communication, trust, and leadership that is driving the change. Change management that understands how uncertainty and fear can lead to greater separation and takes steps to create unity and trust will be more successful.

Imagine two people who are in a low state of mind driving in traffic. They both want the same spot on the same road and see themselves as separate from each other. One driver cuts the other driver off. Let’s just say the interaction is not very positive, and often how road rage incidents start. The interesting thing is that each driver sees the other as the cause of the traffic. Since they feel separate they see each other as separate and thus the one to blame. But in Los Angeles – home to some of the worst traffic in the United States – a brilliant sign read, “You are the traffic.” In essence since we are all one, we are all the traffic. When you realize this truth, you stop seeing others as separate and part of the problem. In fact, the circumstance is not even a problem. The lie that you are separate is the problem. Remember the truth and enjoy the ride.

Excerpted with permission from the publisher, Wiley, from The One Truth by Jon Gordon. Copyright © 2023 by Jon Gordon. All rights reserved.


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events


    Strategic Planning Workshop

    1:00 - 5:00 pm

    Over 70% of Executives Surveyed Agree: Many Strategic Planning Efforts Lack Systematic Approach Tips for Enhancing Your Strategic Planning Process

    Executives expressed frustration with their current strategic planning process. Issues include:

    1. Lack of systematic approach (70%)
    2. Laundry lists without prioritization (68%)
    3. Decisions based on personalities rather than facts and information (65%)


    Steve Rutan and Denise Harrison have put together an afternoon workshop that will provide the tools you need to address these concerns.  They have worked with hundreds of executives to develop a systematic approach that will enable your team to make better decisions during strategic planning.  Steve and Denise will walk you through exercises for prioritizing your lists and steps that will reset and reinvigorate your process.  This will be a hands-on workshop that will enable you to think about your business as you use the tools that are being presented.  If you are ready for a Strategic Planning tune-up, select this workshop in your registration form.  The additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    New York, NY: ​​​Chief Executive's Corporate Citizenship Awards 2017

    Women in Leadership Seminar and Peer Discussion

    2:00 - 5:00 pm

    Female leaders face the same issues all leaders do, but they often face additional challenges too. In this peer session, we will facilitate a discussion of best practices and how to overcome common barriers to help women leaders be more effective within and outside their organizations. 

    Limited space available.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $495 will be added to your total.

    Golf Outing

    10:30 - 5:00 pm
    General’s Retreat at Hermitage Golf Course
    Sponsored by UBS

    General’s Retreat, built in 1986 with architect Gary Roger Baird, has been voted the “Best Golf Course in Nashville” and is a “must play” when visiting the Nashville, Tennessee area. With the beautiful setting along the Cumberland River, golfers of all capabilities will thoroughly enjoy the golf, scenery and hospitality.

    The golf outing fee includes transportation to and from the hotel, greens/cart fees, use of practice facilities, and boxed lunch. The bus will leave the hotel at 10:30 am for a noon shotgun start and return to the hotel after the cocktail reception following the completion of the round.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $295 will be added to your total.