Narcissism in Leadership

January 22, 2016

Can a narcissist be a good leader? This is the question that comes up for me when I contemplate the possibility of a President Trump.

The Mayo Clinic defines narcissistic personality disorder as “a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others.” Characteristics include arrogance, dominance and hostility.

According to psychologist and Harvard professor Howard Gardener, Donald Trump is a “textbook” narcissist. And while healthy narcissism can be valuable in leaders, unhealthy narcissism can be extremely destructive.

Though many famous productive and healthy narcissists come to mind in the corporate world (e.g., Bill Gates, Jack Welch, Larry Ellison), it’s a bit more difficult to think of narcissistic world leaders that aren’t viewed as dictators (e.g., Muammar Qaddafi, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot.)

However, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton all displayed many healthy narcissistic qualities while in power. These healthy narcissistic qualities include: self confidence that is in line with reality, a genuine concern for others and their ideas, and the ability to follow through on plans based on their values.

Conversely, unhealthy narcissistic qualities include: self-confidence that is grandiose, devaluing and exploiting others without remorse, and an inability to follow a consistent path because it is not grounded in values.

Healthy and productive narcissists can be visionaries with creative strategies, who are able to find meaning in the challenges of a changing world. Narcissists are not only risk takers, but also charmers who can convert the masses with their rhetoric.

Sigmund Freud named narcissism after the mythical figure Narcissus, who died because of his pathological preoccupation with himself. Freud said that narcissists are emotionally isolated and highly distrustful. They are typically overly sensitive to criticism, poor listeners and—though emotionally clever—they tend towards exploitation rather than empathy.

“Companies need leaders who do not try to anticipate the future so much as create it,” wrote Michael Maccoby in a 2004 Harvard Business Review article titled Narcissistic Leaders: The Incredible Pros, the Inevitable Cons. “But narcissistic leaders—even the most productive of them—can self-destruct and lead their organizations terribly astray. For companies whose narcissistic leaders recognize their limitations, these will be the best of times. For other companies, these could turn out to be the worst.”

Narcissists can turn unproductive when, due to their lack of self-awareness and restraint, they become unrealistic dreamers, says Maccoby. They nurture grand schemes and harbor the illusion where only circumstances or enemies are blocking their success.

They listen only for the kind of information they are seeking. They don’t learn from others, nor do they like to teach. Instead, they indoctrinate others and make speeches. Rather than search for the best solutions among others, they dominate meetings with their own agenda.

Paradoxically, they are extraordinarily sensitive yet they avoid emotions. And in this age of teamwork and collaboration, the narcissistic leader is emotionally isolated.

Many narcissistic leaders become more confident as they increase the number of followers, and very often this leads to flagrant risk-taking, which inevitably results in their downfall. See Bill Clinton with Monica Lewinsky.

For the narcissistic CEO, Maccoby recommends three ways to avoid the traps of their own personality. Let’s look at these and how they might apply to Trump in a governing setting.

  1. Find a trusted sidekick. This is someone who can keep the narcissist grounded. Don Quixote had Sancho Panza just as Bill Gates had Steve Ballmer. Would Donald Trump choose a Vice President or Chief of Staff who could provide adequate counsel to avoid disaster? I have not yet heard or read that he has such a person at his side now.
  2. Indoctrinate the organization. The narcissistic leader wants all subordinates to think the way he or she thinks. Jack Welch had a personal ideology he indoctrinated into GE managers through speeches, memos and confrontations. Rather than create a dialogue, he made pronouncements. Donald Trump may have great difficulty doing this given the divisiveness of a divided congress, not to mention the need for diplomacy on the world stage.
  3. Get into analysis. Though a narcissistic leader is more interested in controlling others than in knowing and disciplining him or herself, this could prove especially useful to uncover and correct vital character flaws. The best narcissistic corporate leaders will do this to become more self-aware and learn humility. Donald Trump, like any politician, would likely hide this even if he were courageous enough to take it on.

Perhaps what at least partially explains Donald Trump’s current lead in the polls is that he has convinced many Republican voters that they should be very afraid because these are chaotic times. Fearful chaotic times are when narcissists most often thrive.

Whether in a corporate or government setting, healthy productive narcissistic leaders can go a long way towards rallying support needed in order to bring about sustainable change and progress. It typically requires gaining some self-awareness and becoming more grounded.

However, unhealthy unproductive narcissistic leaders in either setting can bring about greater divisiveness, reckless planning and execution, and a total lack of concern for others. This type of narcissistic leader would prove detrimental to any company or country.

Don’t Underestimate Corporate Culture

April 2, 2015

Beyond salary, benefits, perks, and the nature of the work itself, a company’s culture is often the reason people stay in an organization. That’s because corporate culture—though not readily apparent or even easily defined—can make you feel like you are part of a team, that you belong, and that you are doing something important.

It can also do the opposite.

No matter where you work, part of the reason you’re there may very well have to do with the connectedness you feel with your co-workers. When this is strong, you are probably accomplishing a lot and feeling good about how you spend your working day. When it is weak, you are probably dreading each Monday morning.

Think of Twitter, Google, Apple, Zappo’s, Wegman’s, Whole Foods, Southwest Airlines, REI, Patagonia and Netflix. These are all companies with positive corporate cultures that share widespread brand awareness, strong financial performance, unrelenting customer focus, and a reputation that makes them a magnet for job seekers.

Corporate culture can best be defined as the shared values, attitudes, standards, and beliefs that characterize those in an organization. It is based on the beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company’s management and employees interact and handle their business transactions.

It is defined over time from the cumulative traits of the people hired, and rooted in the organization’s goals, strategies, structure and approaches to its employees, customers, vendors, investors and the larger community. You might think of your company’s culture as its personality.

The statement “culture eats strategy for breakfast” has often been attributed to the great management consultant Peter Drucker, who argued that a company’s culture would trump any attempt to create a strategy that was incompatible with its culture. Drucker compared company cultures to country cultures. Never try to change one, he said, but instead try to work with what you’ve got.

In the same way that a company’s products and services, leadership team, market conditions, competitive pressures, and other factors need to be considered in any corporate strategy, so too must the existing culture.

Corporate culture can either help or hamper an organization in its efforts to implement a strategy. More often than not, leaders underestimate the power of culture rather than embracing its power for helping them. Implementing a strategy that runs counter to or requires a huge shift in the culture can be disastrous.

Instead, you can leverage the corporate culture by ensuring it is aligned with your new strategy, latest company acquisition, or your incoming CEO. Each of these transitions can be successful if the cultural aspects of the change are considered along with all the other due diligence completed.

A positive company culture can benefit recruiting, employee motivation and retention, teamwork, reduced absenteeism, customer service, responsiveness to change, and bottom line financial performance.

Developing such a positive culture evolves over time and grounded in the employees you hire. Be careful and selective in recruitment and in every way you conduct business, and your culture will enable the organization to grow and thrive.

Focus on Employees Before Customers

April 25, 2014

In my experience, the best companies put their employees ahead of their customers. This may seem counter to what most companies want to convey to the marketplace, but the ultimate value of products and services shine through if the people designing, producing and delivering them are served well.

Think of Google, Zappos , Netflix, Costco and, at least until recently, Southwest Airlines who continually focus on the relationships with their employees.

“Everybody talks about building a relationship with your customer,” says Angela Ahrendts, CEO of Burberry and soon to take on Apple’s retail business. “I think you build one with your employees first.”

Employees who feel cared for are far more likely to serve customers well than those who are not. This is because employees are the most important element when it comes to improving productivity and increasing profitability.

In The Executive Checklist: A Guide for Setting Direction and Managing Change by James M. Kerr, the author provides a framework to reach enterprise-wide transformation.

All the expected items are in this checklist, but my focus is on the people side, which he discusses in two sections: Chapter 4 Engage Staff—The way to gain support and accelerate success, and Chapter 8 Transform Staff—The people part of enterprise-wide change.

Staff Engagement Checklist:

  • Decide to Engage – This is a continuous program and includes executive sponsorship, engagement strategy, communication framework and program administration.
  • Promote the New Culture – Outreach and promotion are essential with messaging that is consistent and on-point for both internal and external audiences.
  • Inspire Early Adopters – Reaching out and empowering those who clearly adopt the proposed changes will help engage other employees. This can encourage change from the bottom up as well as top down.
  • Plan for Generation Y – These workers can be more difficult to engage and not easily managed through conventional means. Consider ideas such as redefining job titles, enable a free agent market, promote location independence, and provide lifestyle benefits.
  • Include Inclusion – Embrace diversity to ensure everyone feels their ideas and input are welcome. Ensure that your management team and board of directors exemplify your commitment to this.
  • Tie Engagements to Measurement & Reward Programs – Incentivize the commitment people make to the engagement. Develop an awards program that can reward them for their efforts.

Employee engagement is vital to increasing trust and building better relationships that can increase productivity. It can inspire employees to bring their best selves to the workplace and result in more positive customer interactions.

Staff transformation is another area that can leverage the employee focus into organization-wide results.

Staff Transformation Checklist:

  • Shape the Program for Continuous Execution – This means training on skills and behaviors consistent with the vision and business strategy. It includes what Kerr calls the pillars of training, measurement and reward.
  • Place Emphasis on Softer Skills and Bigger Pictures – Enhancing communication, building trust, and encouraging teamwork can greatly influence cooperation and collaboration. A greater understanding of the vision and strategy can stir creativity and innovation.
  • Commit to Shared Training – The employee and employer should jointly take part in determining what training is needed as well as where and how it can be obtained. Both should have skin in the game for this training to be effective.
  • Weave Measurement into the Execution Environment – When performance metrics are produced as a byproduct of doing the work, the process can be adjusted in real time and not wait until after completion.
  • Measure for Desired Outcomes – Aligning performance measurement with desired objectives is more likely to bring about higher quality changes faster.
  • Reward Results – Reward and compensation packages should track directly with results and not merely effort made or hours invested.
  • Reimagine Incentives – Extrinsic nonmonetary rewards such as tickets to theatre or sporting events, gift cards, preferred parking spots, etc. go a long way to motivating your staff.
  • Build a Creative Team of Personnel – Encourage your staff to be more creative through cross-functional work teams, out-of-the-box thinking, and a visually stimulating workplace environment.

This staff transformation is all about a management structure that trains, measures and rewards people for delivering results. When you directly tie your people’s efforts to the outcomes desired, you can transform your staff.

These transformation efforts need to be deliberate, well planned and guided by the strategy of the organization.

“It is vital part of rejuvenating the current execution culture, while enabling the achievement of desired outcomes,” Kerr writes. “Organizations change as people change.”

When organizations put their employees ahead of their customers not just in words but in actions, this will translate into higher productivity and profitability. Customers will follow.

Intention: Vital to Effective Action

March 17, 2014

“He who has a why can bear almost any how.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

We all know intention without action leads to nothing, but what about action without intention? When we focus on accomplishing something before fully considering the purpose behind it, the action can be a wasted effort.

Your intention is important because you gain clarity of purpose prior to the action you take. The extra time taken to clarify why you are doing something can be the difference between acting for the sake of being busy versus actually accomplishing something important.

Intentions are important for any size decision and in any part of our lives.

At work this can be as big as restructuring a large company’s workforce, which requires a great deal of forethought and communication on the intention behind the change. Providing a clear and compelling message on the intention behind the restructure can greatly help facilitate this change effort.

A middle manager looking to complete a project that requires active support of others across the organization may struggle without stating her intention. Clearly identifying and communicating the intention behind the action you want enables you to get assistance from others regardless of their own priorities. And if you can tie the intent of your project to the organization’s overall goals, you are much more likely to gain others’ support.

Getting people to follow and help you in your efforts to accomplish something are greatly increased when you begin with the intention for why you are taking action.

In his book “Start with Why,” author Simon Sinek says that those who start with a clear and compelling why never manipulate others, but instead inspire them. People then follow not because they have to, but because they want to.

This notion of a compelling why is very much grounded in intention. Your why to inspire yourself and others needs to be grounded in how well you have thought out and articulated your intention.

So how can you learn to be more intentional prior to your actions?

Here’s a few ways (big and small) each of us can more likely accomplish whatever it is we want to achieve. It doesn’t take a huge investment in time or money.

It does, however, involve consciously being intentional. It involves actively putting forth what it is you want so others know about it. Whether at work or anywhere in our lives, being intentional will lead to getting more of what you want.

Here’s a few ways to encourage more intentionality into your life:

  • Use your turn signal. I don’t mean after reaching the intersection when the driver of the car behind you no longer has an opportunity to get into another lane. I mean giving the other driver a full half-block warning (which is the law, by the way) to make a fully informed decision with regard to your intention. Hopefully, this will catch on with others.
  • Speak to others directly. This means making it crystal clear what you want from the other person when speaking to him or her. Don’t talk around what’s on your mind, but instead speak from your heart, be honest and be direct. If you often hear people say “what are you trying to say,” then this is for you.
  • Begin with the end in mind. As Stephen R. Covey says in his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” all things are created twice. And the mental or first creation needs to precede the physical or second creation. Know where you’re going before you start your engine.
  • Be true to your word. Say what you do and do what you say. Your intentions will only be effective if you regularly act on what you say you will do. By stating your intention, you are proclaiming to yourself and others what you will act upon. Hold yourself accountable for this.

This begs the question: Why do we so often hold others accountable for their lack of acting on intentions, but we rationalize away our own failure to act? This seems in line with John Wallen, who said we judge ourselves by our intentions, but others on their impact on us.

Surely discipline plays a role. Consistent behavior requires that we hold ourselves accountable for following through on our intentions. If this is a problem, begin by simply noticing when you are not following through with your intentions and the rationale you provide for this. Is there a theme? What does this reveal about you?

Executing effective action requires the intention behind it is clear to everyone involved or impacted by it. Whether you are trying to carry out a huge project in your organization or simply making a left hand turn, signal your intention to enhance your effectiveness at taking action.

 

 

Microsoft’s New CEO Signals Radical Shift

February 4, 2014

Though Wall Street may not thoroughly rally around Satya Nadella to succeed Steve Ballmer as CEO at Microsoft, I believe this so-called “safe choice” is a compelling one because it signals a radical shift in management style at the company.

Nadella is described as smart, persuasive and likeable. He’s also known as a great communicator and collaborator. These are not attributes used very often to describe Ballmer or Bill Gates.

But that doesn’t mean Nadella is a slacker when it comes to technological expertise and business acumen.

He comes to the job with a bachelor’s degree in engineering, a master’s degree in computer science and a master’s in business administration. He cut his teeth as an engineer at Sun Microsystems. And in his 22 years at Microsoft, Nadella led Microsoft Office, the research and development of online services including Bing, and finally servers and tools, which was renamed the cloud and enterprise group.

It appears that he also has the soft skills to be especially successful in this leadership position, and those who worked with Nadella confirm that he is the right choice.

“The reason why I have mountains of respect for Satya is that he’s first and foremost a great and sincere and honest human being,” said Bill Hilf, who worked under Nadella at Microsoft. “It’s a weird thing to say, but that’s a rare thing at Microsoft, because you have so many hardcore technologists who have risen up through the ranks,” explained Hilf in a recent Wired magazine article.

I suspect that Nadella, 46, will not only bring back technical expertise to the CEO role, but also a calm, considerate and collaborative perspective in dealing with the board, executive staff and all 130,000 employees.

“He is very inclusive,” continued Hilf. “He brings people in and gets them excited to work on stuff, and that’s what I think his magic is — his authenticity and the way he is able to inspire people and not just push them. He can inspire them to do great work and get them motivated and excited.”

When I hear leaders described as authentic, inspiring, motivational, and collaborative, I see the potential for greatness.

With this move, Microsoft has signaled radical changes that I believe will enable the company to move forward. Among these radical changes:

  • New CEO Nadella is a native Indian who reads poetry for relaxation and is known for his collaborative rather than combative management style.
  • New chairman of the board John Thompson, the former CEO of Symantec was the first black man to head a technology company and, in 2009, was considered Obama’s choice to fill the commerce secretary post.
  • New role for Gates as technology advisor, who says he will be spending as much as a third of his time meeting with product and technology groups.
  • Newly appointed CFO Amy Hood, formerly of Goldman Sachs and at Microsoft since 2002, is the company’s first woman in this position.

Microsoft is at a pivotal spot in this post-PC era where they need to capitalize on the need to focus more on mobile computing and the cloud. Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple are seen as the leaders in many of these areas so Nadella has his work cut out for him.

It will be especially interesting to see how well he is able to implement change with both Ballmer and Gates still serving as directors on the board.

“He has proven not only that he understands the Microsoft culture, but that he can change it in very big ways,” says James Staten, a vice president and principal analyst with Forrester Research.

Nadella has stated that he finds relaxation in reading poetry by both Indian and American poets. “It’s like code,” he says. “You’re trying to take something that can be described in many, many sentences and pages of prose, but you can convert it into a couple lines of poetry and you still get the essence, so it’s that compression.”

The best code, Nadella says, is poetry.

Moving forward, we’ll see how well this fondness for poetry and more collaborative management style translates into further innovation and greater shareholder value.

When Change Management Efforts Get Derailed

June 28, 2011

Countless change management efforts fail but when things start to derail, there are opportunities to self-correct and get back on track again. And a true learning organization with a strong leader will seize these opportunities.

Organizational change is difficult to manage because it is especially complex and often involves more than one type of change at the same time, such as reengineering, restructuring and culture change.

The factors necessary to manage such complex change under the best of circumstances require: vision, skills, incentives, resources and an action plan. If any one of these is incomplete or missing, change can fail.

In fact, nearly 75% of all organizational change efforts fail to meet the expectations of stakeholders. And these change initiatives most often fail when they are driven by ineffective, missing or conflicting leadership.

So what is there to do? In earlier posts, I wrote about moving beyond organizational stagnation and overcoming resistance to change. But what can we do when our best efforts go sideways, and how can we get back on track again?

In “Changemaking: Tactics and Resources for Managing Organizational Change,” Richard Bevan provides a practical approach for managing change in organizations. He contends that strategic clarity, two-way communication, employee engagement and hands-on leadership are the primary levers through which change can be effectively managed.

Bevan provides a straight-forward framework for what he calls the seven core factors for the effective management of change. These can also be especially helpful when montioring the status of a derailed change effort in order to identify the necessary action to get back on track.

His core factors are:

  1. Clarity
  2. Engagement
  3. Resources
  4. Alignment
  5. Leadership
  6. Communication
  7. Tracking

Here’s an example of his core questions for clarity: Are the purpose, direction and approach defined and documented clearly? Are these understood and accepted by key stakeholder groups?

Bevan follows this up with specific tactics to deal with these questions. For the core factor Clarity these tactics are:

  • Develop a summary document to drive clarity, and to serve as a reference source on the purpose and process of change.
  • Distribute the summary. Use it as a plaform on which to build all communication (internal and external) related to the change.
  • Create a brief elevator pitch for managers—what’s changing and how the transition will be accomplished.
  • Create other tools to assist in the process; for example, a brief PowerPoint presentation for executives and others to use while discussing the changes with their teams.
  • Provide managers with talking points and suggested responses to key questions.
  • Maintain and manage the summary. Seek input and comment; keep it current and accurate, and complete.
  • Provide online access to the current version, and enable input, questions and discussion.

In my work as a change management consultant, using a framework such as this along with the templates, worksheets, checklists and guidelines found in the book can be very helpful in ensuring a successful outcome.

It’s clear that every leader needs to continue learning in order to remain adaptable and agile. And nothing provides more learning opportunities than change initiatives—whether they succeed or fail.

A.G. Lafley, longtime CEO of Procter & Gamble, says nothing contributed more to his growth as a leader than his failures. “It’s Darwin’s theory,” says Lafley. “When you stop learning, you stop development and you stop growing. That’s the end of a leader.”

Learning and growth should be the goal of any organization, and getting derailed change efforts back on track offers an excellent opportunity for this.

Overcoming the Resistance to Change

May 5, 2011

In my work with organizations seeking to implement change initiatives, I continually underestimate the amount of resistance that comes as a result. This shouldn’t come as a surprise because we all cling to the status quo.

But why is this? What is it about change that makes us so reluctant to welcome it?

Change is a natural state for all things that grow, including organizations. This is because markets change, needs change, people change and, as a result, organizations need to change to continue delivering the right products and services. To resist change is to resist growth and this leads to stagnation and death.

And yet, we resist.

It turns out there is a fairly predictable path every person within an organization must travel along when managing their own anxiety around change. This path typically moves along the following timeline:

  1. Uniformed Optimism (blissful ignorance)
  2. Informed Pessimism (informed anguish)
    Checking Out
    Overt (public)
    Covert (private)
  3. Hopeful Realism (coming to terms)
  4. Informed Optimism (realistic support)
  5. Completion

This timeline comes from the work of Daryl R. Conner, author of “Managing at the Speed of Change,” and demonstrates how change initiatives can be implemented if we manage each stage effectively.

Resistance reaches its peak with the checking out phase. This is most responsible for derailing change initiatives and needs to be carefully monitored.

Overt checking out occurs when people resist the change openly by continually doing things the old way despite a new policy or procedure being put in place. It is deliberate and publicly demonstrated. This is a good thing too because the checking out can then be dealt with directly.

Covert checking out can be far more dangerous because it is done behind the scenes and in ways that are more difficult to detect. If a manager says all the right things in a meeting, but then goes back to his office and says something different to coworkers, it undermines the change and can be difficult to confront.

“Resistance is inevitable,” says Conner. “Many managers naïvely assume that if people like a change or think it is a good idea, they will not resist it. Significant change is a disruption in our expectations about the future. This disruption causes a loss of control, and we will resist this loss of control—even if we think the change is a sound one.”

According to Conner, resistance to change is governed by our perceived loss of control. And this loss of control (real or perceived) is sometimes not communicated because it is a feeling and we rarely speak about our feelings in the workplace.

The key is to manage resistance by recognizing the inevitability of it. Address it openly, honestly and consistently. Understand that resistance will be experienced differently based on positive or negative reactions to change. Overt resistance should be encouraged as it can get problems out in the open that can then be dealt with as they arise.

Realize that people may not be comfortable expressing the real reasons for resistance because it touches on their feelings and this requires an atmosphere for open and honest communication. Enabling an environment for an open conversation without fear of retribution may help uncover these feelings and thereby remove resistance.

Change is good. Change is necessary. And resistance to change is inevitable. Therefore, it is important to recognize this resistance and deal with it as it arises.