The dark sides of leadership and loyalty Exploring the Relationship Between Narcissism in Leadership and Organizational Codependency: A Review of the Literature Mary A. Ross Regent University School of Global Leadership and Entrepreneurship May, 2008
Introduction “From antiquity to the postmodern era, literature, history, and folklore…chronicle the folly of leaders who after a gain of rarified positions of power, prestige and status, topple into the abyss of failure” (Allen, 2006).
The Problem is Three-FoldFirst… 57,000 corporate failures in 1986 (Hogan, Curphy & Hogan, 1994) Incompetent leadership Changes in Labor and Market Environments Majority of organizations are unhealthy (Aguirre, Howell, Kletter & Nelson, 2005) Exhibit behaviors that resist meaningful change Inability to turn decisions into action
Second … Culture in America is collectively a culture of narcissism(Fullbright, 1966; Lasch, 1979, Wallis, 2005; de Tocqueville, 1838).. and a culture marked by the dysfunction of codependency (Baker & Jones, 1996; Baker & Newport, 2003). Narcissism: “a pattern of traits and behaviors that signify infatuation and obsession with oneself to the exclusion of all others and the egotistic and ruthless pursuit of one’s gratification, dominance, and ambition” (Rapier, 2005, p. 4) Codependency: “The learned habits of a dysfunctional system…compulsion to control and rescue others by fixing their problems” (Springle, 1995).
Third… Current Leadership and Organizational development research focuses on the bright side of leadership.
Insight It is from a culture of Narcissism & codependency That leaders and followers Are drawn … the heart & soul of the American organization
Rationale Research supports a positive relationship between leadership and organizational health (Meredith, 2007; Senge, 1990; Gini, 2004). Literature supports the leader-follower relationship as a reciprocating process (Gini). Healthy leadership begets health in organizations (Baker & Jones, 1996). The processes between leader and led are determinative (Kets de Vries, 2004). Research posits a positive relationship between organizational health and productivity (Fordyce & Weil, 1971; Aguirre, Howell, Kletter & Neilson, 2005; Kets de Vries, 2004). Individual and organizational behavior is determined by the inherent traits of an organization; behavior drives results (Aguirre, et al., 2005).
Purpose The phenomena of interest in this research are: The dark side of leadership as evidenced in the narcissistic leader; and The dark side of loyalty as evidenced in the codependent organization This research explores the relationship between the two through a review of the literature.
Methodology The methodology used in this research is the Stand Alone Literature Study and Review. Through a process of internet and library database searches, the author has compiled a range of related and relevant works form different sources including: Textbooks Scholarly journals Theses Dissertations Magazines
Research Questions Do narcissistic leaders foster codependency in the organizations they lead? Does codependency support or enable narcissistic leadership? Is the narcissist-codependent relationship one of cause and effect or simply two sides of the same coin? What are the traits or behaviors in U.S. organizations that identify it as ‘unhealthy’? Are those traits and behaviors associated with either phenomenon – narcissism or codependency? What are the outcomes of the narcissist/codependent relationship for the organization?
Narcissism in Leadership Healthy narcissism originates with the infant notion that one is the center of the world and that individual needs take priority over all others. The child matures and this notion matures into an attitude of positive self-regard and confidence. The gauge, however, between healthy narcissism and unhealthy narcissism is: The individual capacity for empathy – the ability to consider others (Goleman, 2006: Williams, 2006; Rapier, 2005).
Unhealthy Narcissism - Characteristics Infatuation and obsession with oneself Regular exclusion of others (unconcerned with feelings and opinions of others) The egotistic ruthless pursuit of one’s gratification, dominance, and ambition. Absence of interest in and empathy of others Eager to obtain admiration and approval from others. Compulsive need for power Prone to anger and rage – “narcissistic rage”, a reaction to feelings of helplessness due to inability to control others. Devalues others Argumentative and jealous Note: Some amount of narcissism is normal for all leaders. (Rapier, 2005).
Rapier (2005) Research study of 11 participants: CEO’s, chairmen, or presidents of organizations based in the U.S. Compare and contrast executive character and leadership style with character traits of narcissism. Methodology: Mixed methods of Literature review and personal interview(qualitative). Identified a ‘type of executive character’: charismatic, neurotic, driven, hubris, extremely expansive, dysfunctional, and narcissistic. An “important distinction was made between largely effective narcissistic executives who go to productive extremes and significantly flawed narcissistic executives who go to destructive extremes (p. 3). Confirmed presence and “preoccupation with dreams of glory, power, status, and prestige” presenting as “…a need to create a sense of specialness …to …regulate self-esteem”(p. 128). Postulates “methods can be developed and cultivated to understand and diminish …nonproductive and …disruptive behaviors” resulting from narcissism (p. 1).
Kets de Vries (2004) Individuals are not “just a conscious, highly-focused maximizing machine of pleasure and pains, but also a person subject to many wishes, fantasies, conflicts, defensive behaviors, and anxieties – some…beyond consciousness” (p. 184). Acknowledges the “plethora of highly destructive actions” of “…business and political leaders,” suggesting that “given these observations, business scholars and leaders need to revisit” questions concerning the leader as a “logical, dependable human being” (Ibid). Postulates: That the reactive narcissistic leader is caught in a legacy of “deprivation, insecurity and inadequacy” (p. 189). That organizations as systems have a life of their own, both conscious and unconscious, rational and irrational. That organizations can be psychologically healthy or unhealthy. “Organizations the world over are full of people who…unable to recognize repetitive patterns in…behavior become dysfunctional…stuck in a vicious, self-destructive circle” (pp. 187-188).
Codependency Paradox: while attempting to control others and situations, the codependent is actually being controlled – gaining self-worth or significance from the approval of the dysfunctional individual or system(Springle, 1993). Compulsion to control and rescue others, to ‘fix them’ and their problems. Occurs when the individual needs for love and security are not met. Three core perceptions / behaviors: Lack of objectivity Warped sense of responsibility Control (being controlled and controlling others) Enablers; without them the systems supported by them are “likely to flounder and fail” (McMillan & Northern, 1995). They often “front for, cover up, and pick up the pieces for other members of the dysfunctional system” (Ibid).
Codependency - Characteristics Three core perceptions / behaviors: Lack of objectivity Warped sense of responsibility Control (being controlled and controlling others) Three emotional results: Guilt Loneliness (alienation/isolation) Hurt & Anger Denial and secrecy (closed systems) are key to survival
McMillan & Northern (1995) Mixed methods research Data from 7 organizations in southeast U. S. over five year period. Study results and/or findings: Posits that “Codependency” is “…the creation of unholy alliances” that distort healthy interdependence and serve to impoverish all human systems. That “the cultural pressures toward codependency…were consistent across groups.” Organizations operate as miniature societies; argue that the influences on the culture are reflected in its human institutions. Codependents practiced the “art of restricted or managed communication…to suppress any message or behavior that might upset the …balance of their dysfunctional family systems” Creation of a ‘closed system’ – cutting off of outside influence
McMillan & Northern (1995)(continued) Three primary communicative practices of codependent organizations revealed: Limited expression of communication Indirectness – to not convey true thoughts or feelings, but to communicate what they perceive is acceptable or safe Reactive communication - externally referenced communication that is nonassertive, non –confrontational. This study posits “the organization as the enabler of the dysfunction” of codependency and communication as the vehicle of codependency.
Summary of Findings A review of the literature suggests a possible positive relationship between Narcissism in Leadership and Organizational Codependency
Outcomes for the Organization Unhealthy organizations (fordyce & Weil, 1971) Organizational codependency (McMillan & Northern, 1995) Members operate on a superficial level – look to leaders to solve problems rather than working together Thoughts and opinions of the general membership are not respected by the leadership Personal needs and feelings are secondary Members compete instead of collaborating; distrust and mean-spiritedness reigns Members withdraw or cast blame in a crisis; conflict is covert Learning is difficult; feedback is avoided or not helpful Relationships are jeopardized by self-interests; members feel alone and lack concern for one another; undercurrent of uncertainty and fear Leadership tightly controls resources and processes; demands excessive justification; allows little freedom for mistakes Innovation is not widespread or encouraged Members swallow their frustrations or refuse to play an active part in rescuing the organization Codependents in the organization practice the art of restricted communication Messages that may upset the balance of the dysfunctional system are suppressed Fosters learning disability – inability to think and interact in ways that enhance Results in a ‘skilled incompetence’ fostered by the organization Limited expression of communication Indirect communication – to not convey true thoughts or feelings but to communicate what is perceived as acceptable or safe Reactive communication – externally referenced; non assertive; non confrontational Creation of a closed system, cut off from outside influence Culture of denial, confusion, dishonesty, self-centeredness, and perfectionism Creation of ‘unholy alliances’ that distort healthy interdependence
Implications There is a need for balance in the study of leadership overall; a model of leadership that examines both the bright and dark sides of leadership. Especially in the leader-follower relationship identified in this study: Narcissistic Leaders and Organizational Codependency. The current discussion of leadership tends toward the glorification of leaders. “It almost seems by definition that bad people cannot be good leaders [yet] …flawed leaders are everywhere” (Kellerman, 2004). The current romanticizing of leadership gives rise to the denial of the dark sides of leadership and loyalty. Understanding the dark side of leadership is the key to understanding leadership failure (Kaiser & Hogan, 2006).
Final Words America needs an intervention. Organizations that emerge within this culture are replete with larger-than-life narcissistic leaders addicted to power, control, admiration, and themselves. They prey on those in relationship with them as a means of satisfying their own selfish needs. The prevalence of codependency within this culture guarantees a supply of individuals who will enable and support the narcissist as a means of satisfying their own insecurities, drawing their significance and worth from the one on whom they are codependent.
Spiritual Application Israel’s spiritual leaders failed to lead them properly and instead led for the satisfaction of their own personal needs and the people suffered (McIntosh & Rima, 2007). The prophet Ezekiel delivered God’s message of judgment on one such leader: “Behold I am against the shepherds, and I will demand My sheep from them and make them cease from feeding sheep. So the shepherds will not feed themselves anymore, but I will deliver My flock from their mouth, so that they will not be food for them (Ezekiel 34:10).
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