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Narcissistic Leadership

Narcissism is an unpleasant personality trait—yet one that seems particularly prevalent in our time.

I was thinking this as I reflected on a world of Facebook and other social media and their ‘look at me’ ethos. A world where people seem quite comfortable spending their time taking endless pictures of themselves… the so called ’selfie’.

The Encarta online dictionary defines narcissism as excessive self-admiration and self-centeredness. You have to extrapolate this a little bit further when considering narcissistic leaders. They will have only one priority in the way in which they run things.


I thought I might have invented the term ‘narcissistic leadership’ (which is a bit narcissistic of me!) but a quick look at Wikipedia proves me wrong. Apparently Linda L. Neider and Chester A. Schriesheim in their 2010 publication ‘The Dark Side of Management” already defined narcissistic leadership as being driven by ‘unyielding arrogance, self-absorption and a personal egotistic need for power and admiration.’

Other commentators on the phenomenon of narcissistic leadership include Neville Symington who writes in ‘Narcissism: A New Theory’ that ‘one of the ways of differentiating a good-enough organization from one that is pathological is through its ability to exclude narcissistic characters from key posts.’

Mr Symington is definitely on to something here. If I visit your company and find some narcissistic tendencies at senior management level then I know something fundamental will have to change if things are to improve.

So, are you a narcissistic leader, surrounding yourself with nodding cronies and focused on your own self-aggrandizement? Well… we all know what happened to the original Narcissus, don’t we.

Careful you don’t drown admiring your own reflection.


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Blame Culture

My last blog entry prompted me to reflect, once again, on different types of organization culture.

In particular, I have to say that in my experience, no matter how positive and forward thinking an organization’s culture might be, there is often an unfortunately rich seam of ‘blame culture’ to be found.

And, believe me, blame culture is really bad news.

A blame culture leads to fear in even the most robust members of staff. Fear that if they get something wrong they will be subject to at best, humiliation, and at worst some kind of disciplinary process which might cost them their job.

This fear is incredibly inhibiting. Organizations need to have individuals who are prepared to take risks and to explore new ideas and areas. If people aren’t doing this then the companies they work for will stagnate. Those companies will also suffer because staff will be spending an inordinate amount of time and energy documenting what they are doing or even covering their tracks rather than getting on with their roles.

And in a worse-case scenario, people won’t speak out where they feel that things aren’t being done right for fear of blame. This has cost lives in care homes and hospitals.

So, dear leader, is a blame culture or sub-culture stifling the operation of your business? Ask your senior managers what they think.

If they seem reluctant to talk, by the way, then you already have your answer!


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Which Are You?

Two blogs ago I was talking about information overload, how destructive this can be and, oddly, how addictive ‘apparent multitasking’ can get.

Re-reading that blog entry I am struck by the absence of the word ‘overwhelmed’.

‘Overwhelmed’ staff certainly won’t be efficient. But worse than that, if they continue to be overwhelmed they might soon be on long-term sick leave.

How can this be prevented?

Well, as their leader, you can do a lot to make sure this does not happen. From reducing the number of emails you’re pinging them through to the number of objectives you’re setting them through to a sympathetic leadership style, you can help them a lot.

But even more than these initiatives, you can help them by allowing them to set boundaries.

Look …if I was a member of your staff and said to you that I:
  • was going to look at my emails between 10.00 and 10.45 each day and at no other time
  • would like to review my objectives with you to be smarter and a more manageable number
  • intend, going forward, to stick to my core hours and break the habit of staying ’til late each night
  • will be reducing my weekly meeting attendance time by a third.

…how would you react?

A poor leader might react badly, perhaps even aggressively.

A good leader will agree to explore my suggestions—although perhaps diarizing a review of how the new approach is going and what lessons have been learned.

Which are you?


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An extract from a new book by award winning scientist, musician, author and record producer Daniel J Levitin caught my eye. His new book, ‘The Organized Mind’, talks among other things about a subject dear to my heart—the modern world’s increasing tendency to overload us with information and the impact this has on us, our physical and mental health and (of particular note to leaders), our efficiency.

Discussing information overload with Fortune 500 leaders, top scientists, writers, students, and small business owners formed an important part of Daniel Levitin’s research for ‘The Organized Mind’. Unsurprisingly, he says that email was repeatedly reported as a problem. People mistakenly think that their apparent multitasking… handling a huge volume of emails as well as the other modern technology associated stimuli we are constantly bombarded with… is a good thing.

Turns out it’s not. As Daniel Levitin says:
‘Even though we think we’re getting a lot done, ironically multitasking makes us demonstrably less efficient. Multitasking creates a dopamine-addiction feedback loop, effectively rewarding the brain for losing focus and for constantly searching for external stimulation.’

This is phenomenon that leaders really need to get a handle on if their leadership is to be effective. Show me a leader with hundreds of people unable to concentrate on key tasks and driven nuts by email volume, endless meetings, open plan office noise, countless new initiatives and the unending addition of other tasks previously done by now defunct functions like HR and Finance…

… and I’ll show you an inefficient organization unable to achieve its core objectives.

Daniel J. Levitin’s book is called ‘The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload’.


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When Too Big To Fail Is Too Small

HP made the news this week for selling cloud services to Deutsche Bank.

Anthem made the news for their involuntary sharing of SSN, income data and—one has to assume—health data.

Take a deep breath and read the first paragraph again.

Doesn’t it make you feel uncomfortable to read about those companies that insist on getting more and more personal data to perform even the smallest of service—yet can’t don’t protect anything?

How long until we hear about the even bigger cloud breach?

And if you are too big to fail—how much of your fucking shit is covered up—because those cover ups “leaders” don’t like to stink?


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The 7 Sins

Lust:An intense desire for money, fame and power.
Gluttony:Over-consumption of anything to the point of waste.
Greed:Excessive pursuit of material possessions.
Sloth:A failure to do the things you should be doing.
Wrath:Inordinate and uncontrolled feelings of hatred and anger.
Envy:Desire for the things others have.
Pride:Belief that you are better than others and a failure to acknowledge others’ accomplishments.

The seven deadly sins may date back to 14th century theological teachings and writings… but giving them modern definitions with the help of Wikipedia, I cite them here wondering how many business, religious and political leaders could claim that they were without sin(!).

Self-knowledge is, I believe, a wonderful thing. Any leader who can properly analyze themselves and determine what truly motivates them and informs the decisions they make can improve their leadership skills.

So… consider your current priorities… and audit them against the seven deadly sins. You might want to rethink any that you suspect may be driven by motives other than those in the best interests of your company, your staff and your customers.

Oh… and while on the subject, you might want to visit the seven deadly sins the next time you’re trying to understand the less helpful conduct exhibited by members of your staff or team.

And to try a different tack when trying to move them away from that behavior!


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Poor Leadership

A new survey conducted by the international internet-based market research firm ‘YouGov’ has caught my eye.

2,000 respondents to the survey commissioned by online training company ‘Caffeine on Demand’ were asked for their views about business and entrepreneurship.

  • over 50% of those asked described the world of business as ‘dog eat dog’
  • 29% said that the corporate world was full of jargon
  • 20% said that business was ‘corrupt and dishonest’
  • 16% said they believe business attracted unpleasant people.

Caffeine on Demand’s co-founder, David Kean, attributed this response to reality television shows like ‘The Apprentice’. He has expressed his concern that young people in particular were being put off from entering the corporate world by such shows (although 47% of all respondents said the business world is ‘dog eat dog’, that number rose to 52% when isolating the responses of 18 to 24 year olds and 54% when looking at the 25 to 34 age group).

My view?

Well, you have only to look through previous Genius One blog entries to find a world characterized by poor leadership… and I think that’s what respondents to this survey are really picking up on. Not so much a world of ‘dog eat dog’ but of sheep following sheep, with only a few brave enough to break out and follow their common sense instincts.

Unless more do the same… attracting good quality young people into business is going to get more and more tough. And that’s bad news for any business leader.


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Getting Recruitment Right

We have looked before at the importance of getting recruitment right.

That’s why I was interested in an interview conducted with Mark Murphy, the founder and CEO of cutting-edge research and leadership training providers, ‘Leadership IQ’.

In the interview Mark talks of the 20,000 new hires his company tracked. I was more than a little shocked to read that 46% of them failed within 18 months. Interestingly, only 11% of the failures were attributed to lack of skill. 89% of failures were down to attitudinal reasons, including low emotional intelligence and poor levels of motivation.

The fault lies, of course, with employer recruitment processes. These are reasonably effective at assessing whether candidates have the right skill sets for the job. Unfortunately they often fail to evaluate whether the right soft skills are in place for the candidate to thrive in the organization’s culture.

So how do you determine whether someone you’re thinking of hiring has the right personality for the job and for your organization?

Rather than plunder what Mark Murphy and the other experts interviewed in the article suggest, I put my thinking cap on and came up with the following:
  • Have recruitment days that involve not only an interview but also interaction with other candidates and with existing members of staff.
  • Assess how and where you found your best people and apply that to recruiting new employees.
  • Analyze what makes your best people tick… their academic history, their social life outside work, their use of social media and so on to determine an ‘ideal candidate profile’.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions that probe cultural fit, e.g.:
    • How do you feel about working in an open plan environment?
    • What would a great working day consist of?
    • What’s your definition of career success?
    • How do you feel about devolving important tasks?

Having the right people around you is key for leadership success.

Candidates having the right technical skills is no longer enough!


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