Leadership Is Service — Not Narcissism

I began writing this blog to promote a more discerning conversation about leadership. My motivation is my concern for the state of the world today. The world is in a severe crisis of leadership, and this is infecting culture, economy, politics, ideology, and the individual and collective sense of hope and despair.

In the 1960s and 70s, and on into the 1980s, a business manager was referred to as “manager”  or by their functional title (e.g., chief financial officer). Since then, the language changed, and with it our discernment about people in authority positions became nonsense. Today, virtually A-N-Y-O-N-E in a role of authority is referred to as a “leader.”

Today, when anyone is a leader, there is a serious lack of precision in our understanding and insistence on effective leadership.

When you are automatically a “leader,” you may assume you merit the dual implications: authority and honor. Insidiously, assumptions can make an ass out of u and me, automatically assuming honors can manifest in stupid standards, naivety and  narcissism.

The 1970s have been referred to as the decade of narcissism (see Will Kaufman). Once reserved for use by psychologists and psychotherapists, narcissism is now in common usage about those exhibiting “extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration.”

Leadership is fundamentally about service to a worthy mission, and to “others” beyond self and selfishness. It is about taking action as a humanitarian.  Consider the premise of the U.S. Medal of Honor. Yet, by respecting the narcissist in authority, we are socialized to a lesser standard, as the narcissist is concerned with personal gain, personal wealth, personal status and personal fame. Then, what is civilization’s gain?

Leadership is about service. And, service is not narcissism. My 14 year-old granddaughter and her friends appear to get this profoundly more than many of the executives I witness. My granddaughter thinks humanitarians are cool. It is not a difficult perspective to grasp. But, if we regard wealth and fame as vouching for leadership credibility, we can loose our way in that blinding darkness.

For an exercise in refreshing perspective, witness the generative service intention of leaders who have been highlighted here, in Strategic Snapshots: Rebecca Onie, B-Corps, Blake Mycoskie, Chip BellBeth Copley, Futbol Club Barcelona, Tamela Rich, Mike Del Ponte, Project Oxygen at Google, Charles Ferguson, Natalie Portman, Colin Firth, and Aaron Sorkin, Egypt’s Leaderless Revolution, Cynthia Ackrill, Tony Hsieh, and Michelle Obama, Scott Hepburn, and Jean Baruch.

Are you encouraging unselfish activism? Are you setting an emulative example that is obvious, simple and clear? Or, are you relying on others to lead effectively?