Much inspiration can be found with charismatic leaders but their strengths can be their weaknesses and what has an upside also has a downside. Many of the traits which help leaders reach the top of their game, can also be the same traits which lead to their downfall and there have been many examples of a narcissistic leader who thinks s/he is invincible, only to find that a situation becomes irretrievable, allies can no longer support them and they are backed into a corner.
So how can a leader recognise or be helped to recognise when their time is over?
1. When you don’t enjoy what you are doing and are only doing it for the accolades and/or money but have no genuine interest in what you are doing or are taking risk sto get the adrenaline rush you used to get, it is a warning sign that something is wrong and you are no longer engaged with your organisation. Start to shape what you can do next. If you spot these signs in an individual then start the process of discussing what they need and where they can move on to. Maybe their contribution (which may have been excellent) is not enough now and the risks outweigh the rewards so the individual needs a new challenge and the organisation needs to be aware of the potential risks and limit these.
2. Narcissists are not bad people. The psychological research shows them to bedamaged individuals. This is not their fault and they cover up their insecurities, without knowing it, by having energy, ideas and motivation and are in desperately in need of praise. They cope by being good and often experience a meteoric rise inorganizations because they are clever and capable. However, they need boundaries and this means that everyone needs to be held accountable by someone.
3. Consider the systems and processes that an organization has in place and how these are used to monitor individuals. Like anything else in life there is the mild, moderate and severe label. Psychologists believe that everyone has a touch of Narcissim and that is not a bad thing but if it is moves beyond mild or was dormant and with the addition of power has now become rampant there is a disaster waiting to happen. 360 feedback, developmental appraisals and the use of Psychometrics like the Hogan Development Survey (HDS), a psychometric tool designed to identify eleven dysfunctional positions often used to identify the ‘dark side’ of an individual’s personality can be of help.
4. Ironically, the most powerful narcissist needs the most understanding and empathy.They may be ruthless and think they are right squashing any dissenter but underneath they are often the most vulnerable of individuals. Never allow such an individual to have total power as ‘total power corrupts absolutely’ but do provide the praise, empathy and encouragement to make the individual feel valued.
All leaders have their day but it is the systems and checks in a democratic society or corporate organization together with the processes to identify strengths and limitations that gain the best from individuals while limiting the worst that are crucial. If you monitor an individual you can head the problems off and find ways of keeping the benefits of that person’s talents. At worst you can plan an exit strategy before things go wrong. Narcissim like everything else has a place but a place best controlled.