Virtuous Leadership vs. Narcissistic Leadership
Religion & Liberty Online

Virtuous Leadership vs. Narcissistic Leadership

David Innes at World Magazine wrote a fascinating post about the nature of virtuous leaders. In discussions of what is necessary for employees to flourish at work, it is important to remember that the character of those in decision-making positions is vital for organizational productivity. Innes reminds us that the key feature of virtuous leaders is one of love. They love their employees properly and, by extension, create a life-giving work environment:

Emotionally intelligent leaders understand the relationship between emotional well-being and the capacity and motivation of people to labor for even the worthiest goals, whether individually or co-operatively. . . Transparency builds trust. No one suspects a hidden agenda because there isn’t one. Empathy is essential. A good leader senses the emotional tone of the workplace and can address discord before it deepens and spreads. Workers will be more effectively on task if they know the boss cares about them and believes their work to be valuable. He gives helpful performance reviews on his employees’ contributions. He’s a true team builder. He helps people understand and develop their strengths, and directs them to the work most suited to them. This helps him sympathize with the people he is managing. He will also foster a friendlier workplace among the employees. He’s a peacemaker. He knows he is not the sole repository of wisdom, vision, and insight. No one is. So he listens, consults, and collaborates.

Leaders who lack love create work environments that destroy trust in the long run. Once trust is lost, a manager’s ability to lead is irreparably compromised. When this happens, disaster ensues.

What, then, is the catalyst, for leadership disasters? It often comes as a consequence of teams and organizations being lead by narcissists. Researchers at Ohio State University have found that people who score high in narcissism tend to find themselves in leadership positions, especially when there are leadership voids in organizations. Narcissists are self-centered and hold exaggerated views about their talents and abilities while lacking empathy for others. Narcissists have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. They believe they are superior to others and, therefore, have little regard for other people’s feelings. When narcissists become leaders, in politics, business, schools, and the like; morale, employee productivity, and efficiency suffer.

Are you currently working for a narcissist? Psychology Today offers some helpful insights to help you answer this question. For example, does your boss do any combination of the following: reacts to criticism with anger, shame, or humiliation; takes advantage of others to reach his or her own goals; exaggerates his own importance; exaggerates achievements and talents; entertains unrealistic fantasies about success, power, beauty, intelligence, or romance; has unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment; requires constant attention and positive reinforcement from others; is easily jealous; disregards the feelings of others; lacks empathy; has obsessive self-interest; and pursues mainly selfish goals? If any of this sounds familiar, you may be working with a narcissist.

Moreoever, Justin Menkes, of the Harvard Business Review, adds that narcissistic leaders regularly remind their subordinates of the authority of their position and title when challenged. Kathy Caprino, of Forbes Magazine, observes that narcissistic bosses tend be “outwardly charming but inwardly” they are snakes. These leaders “feign caring for [the] group or unit, but in reality, [feel] nothing.” They are charismatic and believe that the rules do not apply to them. Narcissistic bosses follow their own advice and rules in the end.

Innes concludes his post by noting that “You cannot lead people you do not love.” He is exactly right. This explains why virtue is so important. A virtuous leader will love those with whom he or she works, but narcissistic leaders will not because they cannot. The bottom line is that leaders having skill alone is insufficient because, in the long-run, bad character sabotages skill every time.

Anthony Bradley

Anthony B. Bradley, Ph.D., is distinguished research fellow at the Acton Institute and author of The Political Economy of Liberation: Thomas Sowell and James Cone on the Black Experience.