Narcissists and charismatic leaders often are so commonly linkec, one cannot determine where one personality trait ends and the other begins. While all narcissists are not charismatic, it is believed that all charismatic leaders have some form of narcissism greater than the average individual. The hard-wiring of narcissists is highly Machiavellian in that they have "changeable" or mutable consciences. Instead of being tied to a specific method of getting things accomplished, narcissists change their minds and paradigm according to the needs of the situation. Consequently, narcissists are difficult to pigeon hole, because they adapt to a situation for the sole purpose of winning.
As Vidal Gore once stated, "It's not enough to win, the other guy has to lose." This will to achieve is believed to stem from early childhood experiences of degradation that positioned the narcissist to excel at all cost. Lubit (2002) asserts that narcissists are inclined to leave projects unfinished once they become bored. Conversely, Fleming (N.D.) contends that charismatic leaders become inextricably tied to a project. So much so that the challenge is motivating the charismatic leader to leave or delegate power rather than remain, once the mission has been accomplished.
Charismatic narcissists are often more persistent than the average individual based on the need to achieve. This drive is a benefit for organizations in that the charismatic will stay the course until the task is accomplished or deem the challenges unwinnable. As noted earlier, the downside is the unwillingness for charismatics to leave or create a succession plan once a goal has been achieved. Evidence also suggests that charismatic narcissists will abdicate the mission or forgo alliances if persisting acts contrary their self-interest.
All in all, charismatic narcissists can be beneficial in creating an innovative, fast paced and groundbreaking environment for employees. Their "Big Picture" sentimentalities allow for individuals to feel a part of something bigger than themselves. For charismatic narcissists, accomplishing a grandiose mission becomes the driving force of their existence.
As demonstrated by Prince, Hitler and Stalin, the mission is so critical for vainglorious and self-aggrandizing measures, anyone who poses either a threat or ceases to be valuable will be eliminated. Charismatic narcissists are persistent in their endeavors and will unload any "baggage" at will. In their minds, they are indispensable where everyone else is expendable.
For organizations wrestling with charismatic narcissists, it is essential to weigh the pros and cons of this type of leadership. For organizations that are receding, irrelevant and complacent, charismatic narcissists can be valuable for jump starting the organization. The cautionary note is to have parameters, boundaries and oversight to the actions of charismatic narcissists. Not to have some measure of control is fodder for the charismatic narcissists to wreak havoc on the long-term aspirations of the mission. Like fire, charismatic narcissists can be beneficial for building an organization or they can obliterate everyone and everything around them if left unchecked.
Fleming, G.(N.D.). Student leadership styles: Charismatic leadership. About.com guide. Retrieved from: http://homeworktips.about.com/od/studymethods/ss/leadership_4.htmFf
Lubit, R. (2002), 'The Long-Term Organizational Impact of Destructively Narcissistic Managers', Academy of Management Executive, Volume 16, Number 1, pp. 127-138
Edward Brown, M.S., is a researcher and lead instructor for Core Edge Image & Charisma Institute, Inc., which teaches clients how to profit and lead their industry by developing charisma. He is the author of nine books including: Image, Power & Charisma, Power Moves for Those with Limited Cash, Clout & Connections, and Principles of Charismatic Leadership: The Missing Link....
Brown is the host for the online talk show Charisma Live and Editor of the blog, Charisma Today. He has advanced legal training from the University of Dayton School of Law and a master's degree from Mercer University in Leadership Development.