I love me who do you love?

There is no ‘Self’ in Service and you don’t spell team with an ‘i’ – Friends and colleagues will attest to the fact I use these terms often. I’ve never been a great fan of people who are preoccupied with their own self-importance.

It’s a trait that appears to have become far more prevalent in recent years, non more so than the area of business management. I’m not just referring to commercial organisations here, the ones that need to make money for shareholders, worryingly, they also abound within far too many areas of service provision – in both the public and private sectors.

It seems to me that in general, the further people climb up the organisational hierarchy ladder, the further removed they become from the realities and issues of something they’re responsible for managing. The consequence of this is (often) a greater propensity for displays of narcissistic tendencies. Never mind the impacts upon those they are managing.

Narcissism is a term with a wide range of meanings, depending on whether it is used to describe a psychoanalytic theory, a mental illness or a social and/or cultural problem.

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a personality disorder in which the individual is described as being excessively preoccupied with issues of personal adequacy, power, prestige and vanity…(wikipedia.org)

NPD was first identified as an illness in the USA back in 1968 and apparently, 1% of all Americans suffer from the disorder (source). It makes me wonder, as a great deal of business management theory applied in the world today originated in America, shouldn’t we be concerned and worried about the levels of NPD (or worse) at the root of current management training and thinking?

Despite narcissism being reviled as a pathological state, the author Mark Vernon argues that it may also be necessary for our emotional survival. He points out that “narcissism is a necessary form of love” as we mature personally; it’s simply a constituent part of the human evolutionary process.

It has long been argued that egocentrism in children is simply a “child’s inability to see other people’s viewpoints” [Jean Piaget 1896–1980].

Piaget also believed that egocentrism affects the child’s sense of morality [Fogiel, 1980]. Due to egocentrism, a “child is only concerned with the final outcome of an event.” Although most of the research completed on the topic of  is primarily focused on early childhood development, these tendencies have been found to occur during adolescence [Goossens, Seiffge-Krenke & Marcoen, 1992].

It stands to reason therefore that logically, the trait must sometimes also progress into adulthood? That may be ok in children but it’s not so good in adults. Worryingly today, it appears that trait is lingering later and later into adult life. Something starting to sound like a familiar description of many of our politicians and leaders?

In my experience the negative aspects of narcissistic behaviour are proliferating. In my opinion the reason for this is the way in which we have raised and educated our children, not forgetting the manner in which we train our business leaders. Our children can be excused for what is a ‘natural’ tendency however; the self-interest of adolescents and adults cannot.

Reading Vernon’s article it’s easy to understand his view but, as he also points out, one of the dangers is; a little healthy juvenile narcissism can often progress towards egocentric behaviour.

BBC Viewpoint: In defence of narcissism – Perhaps our understanding of ourselves has become too individualistic, too mechanical. We worry about autonomy more than connection, about freedom over commitment, about individual rights more than the common good…(Mark Vernon)

Yes we all need a little self-esteem and self-belief. Lack of confidence in our own abilities or feelings of worthlessness in our society can result in a downward spiral of depression or worse. The danger is when that narcissism becomes egocentric behaviour and megalomania.

The megalomaniac differs from the narcissist by the fact that he wishes to be powerful rather than charming, and seeks to be feared rather than loved. To this type belong many lunatics and most of the great men of history…(Bertrand Russell)

What was once a quirky personality trait suddenly starts to have a fundamentally negative impact upon the lives of other people. Politicians, CEOs and police leaders need to understand that people, right across the world, not least in America, are (belatedly) getting wise to the situation and saying; enough is enough this has to stop!

America is on the verge of destruction: …One must never underestimate the manipulative genius of pathological narcissists. They project such an imposing personality that it overwhelms those around them. Charmed by the charisma of the narcissist, people become like clay in his hands…(read more)

The fallout from the global recession in recent years has brought about a great deal of angst throughout the developed world. Society is no longer satisfied with the decisions made by many of their politicians and business leaders.

I’m one of those people who is able to believe in himself, I suppose I can say… “I love me!” But I’m only able to be so smug in my own self-belief because I can also empathise with those who are less fortunate than I am. I’m also proud that I have spent the majority of my adult life serving the needs of others, in one form or another.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not wealthy, in fact I’m fairly poor in the bigger scheme of things. I don’t have all the material things that I would like but I have my health. Yes I have some problems but don’t we all? However, I’ve experienced a great deal of the stuff that impacts upon other people’s quality of life, both directly and indirectly, so I have an understanding. 

Perhaps our leaders need to take that on board before it all blows up in their face? And fairly quickly, do something about mending their ways. In all walks of life, particularly management, you need to be able to show some love and understanding of the needs of others before you can truly love yourself!