When Image Is Everything

When Image Is Everything

For narcissistic leaders the world revolves on the axis of self, and all other people and issues closely orbit them as they get caught in the strong gravitational pull of the narcissist’s self-absorption. Narcissistic leaders “present various combinations of intense ambitiousness, grandiose fantasies, feelings of inferiority and over-dependence on external admiration and acclaim.” (Alexander Lowen, 1983, p. 6)  At the same time the self-absorbed leader is chronically uncertain of him or herself and experiences dissatisfaction with his or her accomplishments, which he or she tries to overcome by exploiting others in ways that will help elevate their self-image; a tendency we have seen writ large in American politics in recent years. In addition, narcissistic leaders have  an overinflated sense of their importance to the organization and an exhibitionistic need for constant attention and admiration from others, especially those they lead and any person or group to whom they report. In spite of their drive to achieve greatness, their restless ambition is rarely satisfied in a way that enables them to enjoy their accomplishments. Another characteristic is their “interpersonal exploitation, in which others are taken advantage of in order to indulge [their] own desires or for self-aggrandizement” (Millon, 1981, p. 159).

Narcissistic leaders also tend to overestimate their own achievements and abilities while stubbornly refusing to recognize the quality and value of the same in others. Any recognition of someone else’s accomplishments or abilities is a threat to their own self-importance and risks the loss of the exclusive admiration they crave from their followers. Because narcissistic leaders tend to use others to advance their own goals, they are notorious for being unable to empathize with those they lead. This enables them to pursue their own ends without restraint. When a person in their orbit no longer serves their purposes or no longer displays the requisite admiration, they are quickly discarded. Though narcissism seems to be diametrically opposed to the concept of servant leadership, it is all too common among leaders and we have witnessed its destructive effects in our political life, many organizations and even religious institutions. SCMLi provides a dark side profile that will help leaders identify their unique dark side traits. We also provide a process by which leaders can learn how their particular traits developed and then help them develop a personal plan to begin raising self-awareness and mitigate the more negative aspect of those traits.



Millon, Theodore (1981). Disorders of Personality. New York: John Wiley and Sons.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *