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Many CEOs May Be Productive Narcissists

Elon Musk wants to send mankind to Mars. Back here on Earth, Mark Zuckerberg hopes to hook everyone up to the Internet—the better for them to use Facebook, of course. The two entrepreneurs have different visions of the future. Still, the fact that both men are possessed by enough self-belief to pull off world-changing feats has earned them a spot in a category of self-centered CEOs, who were first noticed by an anthropologist back at the height of the dot-com bubble. The academic calls them productive narcissists, and he thinks there may be more of them today.

Chief executives are hardly known for being reserved or self-doubting. However, there is something “new and daring” about some of the modern CEOs, said Michael Maccoby, an anthropologist and psychoanalyst who first wrote about this new type of leadership in an article for the Harvard Business Review more than a decade ago.

Called “Narcissistic Leaders: The Incredible Pros, the Inevitable Cons,” the article noted that corporate chiefs like Apple’s deceased CEO Steve Jobs, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates were “transforming” industries with their ability to be “gifted and creative strategists who see the big picture and find meaning in the risky challenge of changing the world and leaving behind a legacy.”

Is it necessary to be a ‘productive narcissist’ to be successful? Probably not. But those who are may likely be more successful and more visionary than those who are not.

In the India publication Swarajya, leadership architect Dr. Pallab Bandyopadhyay writes that back in 1931, it was Sigmund Freud who came up with the concept of Narcissist as a personality type. And he defined a narcissist as: “independent and not open to intimidation. His ego has a large amount of aggressiveness at its disposal, which also manifests itself in a readiness for activity. In his erotic life loving is preferred above being loved. People belonging to this type impress others as being ‘personalities’; they are especially suited to act as support for others, to take on the role of leaders and to give a fresh stimulus to cultural development or to damage the established state of affairs.”

“Honestly speaking, by reading through the original description by Freud, you will agree with me that the narcissistic personality type is very much a part of many leaders’ inherent traits,” Bandyopadhyay says. “As a matter of fact, in my three decades of corporate experience, I do not remember meeting a single CXO whose leadership traits did not match with the ones described by Freud’s as narcissistic personality.”

Read more:
A Narcissist in Every Leader
Narcissism actually produces results: The rise of the world changers


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