Narcissism and confidence, it can be a fine line

The more narcissistic a CEO the more likely it is their organisation’s share price will lag behind their competitors.  This was the finding of the Macquarie School of Management after reviewing 18 months performance through to March 2013 (reported in last weeks Australian Financial Review).

These finding surprised some who feel that, particularly in more challenging environments, a leader who has a strong ego is essential to success.  When the interviewer Andrew Denton asked the former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke “How important is it to have a healthy ego? Hawke responded “Well look if you haven’t got confidence in yourself how in the hell can you expect other people to have confidence in you?”  Hawke makes a very good point but the key to understanding this is when does confidence become arrogance and then narcissism.  The answer lies in the leaders motivation, is it all for themselves or is it for overall success?

Narcissistic leaders have a common focus with leaders who are at the other end of the scale, i.e. those who are afraid.  The number one priority for both is a concern for how they will be perceived by others (see table below).  It is this personal priority that will derail their impact on organisational performance.  They will do things for the wrong reasons and they will not be trusted by others; two key issues that will hamstring their ability to add value.  While it is easy to weed out leaders who are afraid it is more challenging to identify the narcissists, particularly in business scenarios that require strong and confident leadership.

Frame of Mind




Main area of concern


The organisation and others






A confident leader will not be afraid of taking a stance for the wider good, they will seek the input of others, they will be happy to explain themselves and when they do get it wrong, they will have the confidence to admit so.  The old adage that a good leader will talk about themselves when addressing poor performance and the collective when referring to successes is always a good indicator.

By Simon Tedstone


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