Tag Archives: Relationships

Presidential Hubris: How Narcissism Influences Leadership

Imagine a world were the President of the United States uses the office to do whatever he wants. Whether he’s sacrificing the truth, ignoring basic ethics, indulging in harmful measures of entitlement, or abusing underlings and colleagues, we are all treated as pawns on his ascent into power. Of course, I’m referring to Frank Underwood on Netflix’s House of Cards (why, who did you think I was talking about?).

In Frank Underwood’s time on television, he has been diagnosed with numerous psychological disorders. One that seems fitting for today’s political climate are his narcissistic tendencies.

Narcissism involves excessive self-aggrandizement, a grandiose view of one’s talents and achievements, and a preoccupation with fantasies of power. These predilections result in extreme selfishness and a shallowness of emotion where the individual maintains a strong distain towards criticism, is unwilling to compromise, and is over-reliant on the need for praise (as a note, we’re still discussing President Underwood).

The road to power is paved with hypocrisy, and casualties – never regret.—Frank Underwood

The indicators of narcissism are often confused with those of self-esteem. Jean Twenge, a professor of Psychology at San Diego State University, makes the distinction that while people high in self-esteem value individual achievement, they also value their relationships. Narcissists, on the other hand, are “missing that piece about valuing, caring and their relationships, so they tend to lack empathy, they have poor relationship skills.” They are likewise linked to materialism and a greater focus on money, fame, and image.

If narcissism sounds like a leadership style you would enjoy, the research is clear that it is ineffective. One study I read on Knowtro found that narcissism decreases task performance by almost 10%. According to the authors, these behaviors have a significantly negative impact on core job responsibilities, team performance, and promotions. Another study concluded that narcissism increases workplace deviance by up to 24%.

But, you may be thinking, aren’t most CEOs associated with being narcissistic? The short answer is, “No.” Sure, there have been articles written about particular individuals, but research does not support the argument that the majority of CEOs are any more self-centered then the rest of us. In fact, the Center for Executive Succession found that only 5% of leaders can be classified as narcissists. At the same time, 60% were described as being high in humility. For you math folks, this means CEOs were 12 times more likely to be humble than narcissistic.

The American people don’t know what’s best for them…I do.—Frank Underwood

Now that we’ve determined how narcissism is 1) not desirable and 2) not a component of success, it’s time for the difficult question: Are you a narcissist? As a hint, if you are offended by my merely asking the question, you are in danger. Those leaning towards narcissism are reluctant to admit they may have such a flaw, as doing so would conflict with their self-image of perfection.

To gain a more unbiased perspective of ourselves, psychiatrist and author Mark Goulston has a quick self-assessment. Called the Narcissist Inventory, answer the ten questions below using a 1-3 scale (1 = rarely; 2 = sometimes; 3 = frequently):

  1. How often does the person need to be right at all costs?
  2. How often does the person act impatient with you for no good reason?
  3. How often does the person interrupt you in the middle of what you’re saying, and yet take offense if you interrupt?
  4. How often does the person expect you to drop whatever you’re thinking about and listen to him or her — and does the person take offense when you expect the same in return?
  5. How often does the person talk more than he or she listens?
  6. How often does the person say “Yes, but,” “That’s not true,” “No,” “However,” or “Your problem is”?
  7. How often does the person resist and resent doing something that matters to you, just because it’s inconvenient?
  8. How often does the person expect you to cheerfully do something that’s inconvenient for you?
  9. How often does the person expect you to accept behavior that he or she would refuse to accept from you?
  10. How often does the person fail to say “Thank you,” “I’m sorry,” “Congratulations,” or “Excuse me” when it’s called for?

To score your inventory, add up the total:

10-16 = The person is cooperative

17-23 = The person is argumentative

24-30 = The person is a narcissist

The President (Underwood, obviously) is unable to feel sympathy, remorse, or a genuine connection to others. His thirst for power is too overwhelming to allow such interference. And I doubt he’s interested in or able to change. We don’t have to be stuck is such a caustic trap as the President (still Underwood). There may be instances where we demonstrate a few narcissist traits, but this does not make us narcissist. What matters more is that we remain vigilantly aware of these tendencies so we can identify them before they influence our decision making and wreak havoc on our reputation. It’s the difference between suffering the inevitably bleak fate of Frank Underwood and being a real life leader.

How ‘Fake News’ Damages Your Company and What You Can Do About It

Since the election, the idea of “fake news” has been prominently debated. Whether from willful blindness or a general sense of gullibility, stories that appear real have spread throughout social media…but this is not a new phenomenon.

200 years ago it was reported that after cutting down a cherry tree, a six year old George Washington guiltily told his father, “I cannot tell a lie…I did cut it with my hatchet.” Similarly, Paul Revere didn’t ride through the streets of Concord, Massachusetts yelling, “The British are coming” and Isaac Newton did not discover gravity when an apple fell on his head.

While these stories are technically fake news, they are distinguished from today’s fake news in their intent. When Mason Locke Weems penned the cherry tree tale in 1806, he was trying to illustrate Washington’s virtue so as to inspire young Americans to emulate him. Elias Phinney relayed Revere’s ride as an act of patriotism. And John Conduitt used Newton’s apple story as a metaphor so the less educated could understand the concept of gravity.

The fake news in our current political climate is more in the vein of Marie Antoinette’s, “Let them eat cake.” This quote was inaccurately attributed to Antoinette when a French Revolutionary anti-establishment pamphlet distributed it as a cartoon. In publishing such an untruth, the author was not trying to generate a metaphorical narrative; rather he was seeking to fuel the insurrection and overthrow of the French government.

As Antoinette can attest, fake news is inherently destructive in nature. Whether it’s from protesters or government leaders, these stories have no purpose but to disparage those with opposing views, stoke irrational fears, and spread falsehoods. There is no way to rationalize it; if an argument is well-intentioned, the truth should be sufficient to convince the masses. If it’s not, you need a better argument.

Consider how your company reacts when a malicious rumor is started. These localized fake news stories have long lasting negative ramifications on your team. Not only are they distracting, but the fabrications harm reputations, working relationships, and the overall culture. This then affects performance, productivity, and the bottom line.

There are two action items we can learn here. One, we need to do a better job identifying and quashing fake news. If you think this sounds easy, think again. A recent Stanford study found that students cannot determine fake news from real news. This lack of critical thinking is particularly alarming considering their nonstop media consumption. Participants had a hard time distinguishing advertisements from news articles and were unable to identify where information came from. In addition, more than 80% believed a native ad identified with the words “sponsored content” was a real news story AND only 25% recognized and were able to explain the differences between a verified Twitter account and one that simply looked legitimate.

This finding indicates that students may focus more on the content of social media posts than on their sources. Despite their fluency with social media, many students are unaware of basic conventions for indicating verified digital information.—Sam Wineburg & Sarah McGrew

The second action item is that as leaders we must take responsibility for this fakery within our organizations. This begins with educating those on our team to be discernable absorbers of information. When new information is presented, teach them to evaluate it based on the following questions:

  1. Do you know the source? Is he/she reliable and trustworthy?
  2. Can you verify the information?
  3. How does it measure up to what you already know?
  4. Does it make (common) sense?
  5. Do you understand the complexity of the information?
  6. Do you understand the context of the information?
  7. What biases do you have that could affect how you interpret the information?
  8. Have subject matter experts corroborated the information? What about the company’s executive team?
  9. How current is the information?
  10. What is the intent of the person disseminating the information?

Fake news is an epidemic. Thankfully, you are in a position to be the Senior Editor of your organization’s “news” outlet. When fake news stories arise, no matter how trivial, report the truth. Don’t allow even one minor fib to become part of the dialogue. The more you practice this, the more fact-checking will become engrained in your culture.

Weekender: Greg Fitzsimmons on Enshrining Your Legacy

Greg Fitzsimmons thumbWelcome to another edition of leadersayswhat’s the Weekender, a puppy of thought to start your weekend off with a positive mindset. Why just a puppy (versus a full size dog)? Because it’s the weekend!

I spoke with an accomplished entrepreneur recently who is contemplating retirement. The only thing holding him back, he stated, is his legacy. He feels the need to garner one more big win to solidify his place on the Mount Rushmore of Success. He went on to explain that this need to establish a lasting legacy weighs on him much more than any of the financial pressures he felt at the infancy of his career.

I use to dismiss this legacy-emphasis as nothing more than insincere actions taken in an attempt to preserve ego. Sure, I want to be remembered in a positive light, but my legacy does not guide my decision making. Then I heard Greg Fitzsimmons discuss this on his podcast, Fitzdog Radio.

You see Louis C. K. now and you see what he’s accomplishing, but he’s always wanted that. I remember him using the word legacy at one point, before things blew up. And I see guys like [Dave] Attell and I think he really cares. You know, alot of these are the guys people are watching. I don’t know that I ever cared about the legacy thing and maybe that’s been my downfall in a way. I always shot for what’s in the moment good, what situation comes up, and I grab it and react… But you know there’s an argument that if I had been focused on one thing, I maybe would have gone farther down a road.

Before hearing this, I never correlated legacy with focus. This is not the need to focus on legacy, mind you, but the legacy that results from remaining focused on a goal, collecting a congruent body of work, and fostering positive relationships with those who choose to follow your vision. With this understanding, many of us have been working towards a legacy without realizing it. Who knows, a little more focus and we may just get there.

The Hunger Games’ Three Ways to Enhance Collaboration

hunger gameskatnissThere’s this great scene in the Hunger Games (Catching Fire) where Katniss and Peeta are speaking at each of the twelve districts as part of their “Victory Tour.” At these events, the townspeople are expected to act cheerful as the victors discuss how they won the brutal Hunger Games. In a climatic scene, our heroes go off script and begin to build support for a rebellion against the authoritative regime.

This event is a pivotal moment for Katniss and Peeta. They understand the overwhelming power of the Capital and know that it will take a collaborative effort to overthrow the current government. This same level of collaboration is essential for all leaders.

A successful leader requires the ability to bring people together for a common purpose. To help start your movement, here are three tips for building collaboration in your team:

Recognize the destructive outcomes of silos

The malicious Capital was able to maintain power because they segregated the population. The easy separation was how each district maintained a physical detachment from other districts; besides barricades, there was an expansive distance between neighboring districts. The more effective siloes were psychological. The Capital manufactured animosity and unhealthy competition through the Hunger Games. After all, districts could not work together knowing they would be forced to send their children into the “kill or be killed” contest.

As the Capital found, silos are an effective way to hold onto control IF your leadership style is dictatorial and your intentions are less than altruistic. For the rest of us, a silo mentality suppresses people’s willingness to share information. This then results in reduced productivity, efficiency, engagement, and a caustic company culture. To break your silos, create intra-departmental teams to complete projects, reward those who display a cooperative method of working, and dissuade anyone participating in a power struggle.

Emphasis trust

Collaboration is reliant upon trust—trust in the leaders, co-workers, subordinates, and overall organization. Since you can’t demand trust, it is imperative to your leadership that you figure out how to earn it. Katniss became the poster child for the rebellion after viewers of the games observed her humanity towards opponents. Finnick became an ally after he administered CPR on Peeta. And Beetee created the plan to blow up the arena’s forcefield, thus saving everyone caught in the battle.

What do these three characters have in common? They relied on their actions to build trust. A leader’s actions must reinforce the collaborative culture they are trying to build. This involves practicing open and ongoing communication, distinguishing suspicious and cynical attitudes, and encouraging shared knowledge.

Help others develop relationships

Collaboration is dependent upon well-developed personal relationships. Katniss built these relationships in spite of her surroundings; your staff can build them because of their leader. We cannot make people be friends, but we can create opportunities for staff to work in teams, build personal ties, and develop mutual appreciation for work being done. Lead by example and others will follow.

It is time to decide whether you want to lead like the Capital or like Katniss. If you choose the former, this article probably was not of much use (Consider reading, “How to Lead Like a Tyrant: The President Coriolanus Snow Story”). For everyone else, establish your reputation as a collaborative leader. Bring others on board and “infect” them with your contagious collective spirit. Incentivize team work, break silo thinking, and “may the odds be ever in your favor.”


Sammy Hagar’s Rules of Success

sammy-hagarAfter writing on leadersayswhat for as long as I have, I am embarrassed that it has taken me this long to discuss Sammy Hagar. As one of my favorite musicians (the album Red Voodoo is a must-own), Sammy has been a preeminent part of the rock n’ roll scene since the 1970s. He was the lead singer of Montrose, Van Halen, and two all-star bands (Chickenfoot and Circle) and has an accomplished solo career. What you may not realize is that Sammy is also an accomplished businessman.

Besides the wealth created as a performer, Sammy has generated multi-millions of dollars with his various non-music ventures. Fueled by his entrepreneurial spirit, Sammy has built a dynasty in such industries as liquor, cycling, restaurants, real estate, and travel. To tell you how he’s done it, Sammy spoke with Liz Welch at Inc.com. The following are some of my personal highlights.

Identify Your Inner Drive

I’ve never started a business thinking, ‘Oh, I’m gonna make money off of this. All my ideas have come from sheer enthusiasm.’ I felt that way about Cabo San Lucas. I bought a condo down there in 1981. There were three hotels, and none of the restaurants had air conditioning, telephones, or TV. But I fell in love with the place. I wanted a place to hang out down there, so I said, ‘I’m going to build a tequila bar.’

Look for Opportunities That Excite You

Back [in the early 1980s], I was seriously into bikes. My friend Bucky was working at a bike store in Corte Madera, California, and he said, ‘Man, these guys are building mountain bikes with big tires and gears.’ I gave him an old junky bike and he built me this crazy-ass mountain bike. I was like, ‘This is awesome!’ I can go off curbs, over rocks, up hills. So I bought the bike store and hired more mechanics to convert more bikes, and then opened a bigger store, Sausalito Cyclery, in 1987, which was doing $4 million in annual sales before I sold it.


After I left Van Halen, Shep Gordon, a music manager, came to visit me at Cabo Wabo. I was wearing shorts and flip-flops, and he said, ‘You need to roll your whole thing into your whole thing.’ Around that time, I met Kari, my current wife, who said, ‘You remind me of Jimmy Buffett.’ I thought she was nuts. But then she took me to see him and I’m going, ‘Holy s–t. This is awesome.’ Some fool with a parrot on his head would get his ass kicked at a Van Halen show. But a light went on. He created a lifestyle for his fans. I had already started Cabo Wabo. I said, ‘We beach all day, eat tacos for dinner, drink tequila. I get onstage and play. That’s it.’

Surround Yourself With Good People

My strategy for running companies successfully is to find the right guy… Marco [Batali] and Steve [Kauffman] are the best partners on the planet. And I can’t get through the day without Renata Ravina. She is my business manager and has been with me for 26 years. She organizes my day and handles my calendar. We talk several times a day at least. Tom Consolo, my music manager, oversees that part of my world.


Friendships are really important in any industry… I’m connecting the dots all the time. And though I don’t tour as much as I used to, I try to make sure every radio station gets a bottle of my rum. The DJ will say, ‘Hey, Sammy sent me this rum–this stuff’s great!’ And I try to make sure the rum is in every venue I play.