It’s Narcissist Friday!
The word out there is that we need narcissists as leaders in our current culture. This is no longer a “nice guy” world. Today, we are told, we need people who can make decisions quickly and without regret. Today’s leaders must be ruthless and aggressive. People who care are slow and compromised. When things have to get done, narcissists can do them.
There was a day when the small town had one grocery. The grocer’s children went to school with everyone else, and people had accounts they could pay off over time. Eventually, the town grew to benefit from two groceries. Even then, the competition was friendly and relaxed. Many people went to both stores, depending on what each could get from their suppliers. When one store ran out of a product, boys who worked for the store would run over to the other to get it as a service to the customer. The two stores had accounts with each other.
But then the chain store came to town. The little groceries couldn’t keep up. The manager’s kids might have gone to the same schools as the rest of the kids of the town, but they might have lived in the next town. The owners were from far away. No one had personal accounts at the chain store. If you didn’t have money, you would have to use a credit card. Otherwise, the chain store simply didn’t care.
For the most part, prices were better at the chain store. So most people liked having them come to town. The distance from the owners and managers didn’t really matter as long as the prices were lower. As the town grew, other chains came in and other private shops disappeared. Soon, everyone expected that distance from the owners of a store. It was just what was.
But, behind the scenes, where shoppers had no access, the chain stores competed with great intensity. Eventually, the chains were bought by larger corporations. Those corporations answered not to shoppers, but to stockholders. Shoppers were a necessary bother. They had to be a part of the system, but they were seen as categories and groups, rather than individuals. The corporations could not afford to focus on people, they had to think about money.
Of course, Mr. Johnson down at Johnson’s Grocery had to think about money, too. In fact, he probably thought about money a lot. But he also thought about the people who came to his store. He had to carry certain products and perform certain services for individuals. People were important to Mr. Johnson, as important as money. In fact, money and people were not disconnected.
The grocery I visit most is a Kroger store. Kroger is the second largest retailer in our nation, just behind Walmart. Kroger handles nearly $120 billion each year through its 4000 or so stores. It has about 450,000 employees. That’s a long way from Bernard Kroger’s grocery store on Pearl Street in Cincinnati. Even the original street is now somewhere under interstate highway 71.
I suppose this is progress. We might long for the days that used to be, but we aren’t going back there soon. Nor would we want to go back all the way. Things might have been slower and more personal then, but they were not necessarily easier. At the same time, we didn’t seem to have so many narcissists.
There are about 500 companies in our country with revenue (sales) of $1 billion or more. Many more with sales over $100 million. That’s business in the US. This is what people are talking about when they say we need narcissistic leaders. The competition among these businesses, for sales and for investment dollars, is intense. They have neither the time nor the interest to focus on people.
Now, you say, a lot of stores focus on people today. The staff is friendly and helpful, the prices are great, the product lines are wide—American business is very interested in me and what I like. Sadly, American business today is interested in us as groups. They gather as much information, without regard to privacy, as they can about you and me. They do need to sell product to generate money. But we are all calculated as categories. If one category is dropped in favor of another, that’s just business.
What kind of leader could make a decision that would negatively affect a large group of customers? What kind of leader would sell an inferior or compromised product just to generate more sales income? What kind of leader would close stores that are needed in communities just to save money? What kind of leader would use, abuse, or push out large numbers of faithful employees? Do you see why people say we need narcissists in charge?
I know that not all those in charge of large companies are narcissists. I also know that not all the decisions made by narcissists are good for the companies they work with. But we can see that the distance from people in business has created a favorable environment for narcissists.
And this is just business. We have leaders in many other capacities. Let’s not get started on politics. When was the last time you sat down and shared your concerns with your representative? And then we have churches, big churches, where no one except staff and major donors ever get an audience with the senior pastor. Schools, charities, banks, and so many other organizations have grown to the point where the leaders never have to connect with the people they are thought to serve. That disconnect from people, with the promise of power and money and prestige, is very attractive to narcissists.
So, do we need narcissists in leadership? I suppose we could ask if this is really leadership. It’s more like ruler-ship or some kind of oligarchy. Narcissists don’t care about leading. They only care about others serving them. Apparently, our growing culture accepts the fact that what benefits narcissists benefits the rest of us. In other words, someone has fallen into the trap.
No, I don’t think we need narcissistic leadership today. I think even leaders of large corporations could stop often to think about the people they serve. The large groceries and the large churches could make a point of making their leaders accountable to people. They could stop rewarding leaders with ridiculous salaries and severance packages (Perfect for the narcissist. Imagine a job where you get rich just for being there. If you fail, you get richer!) In fact, they could begin to hold leaders accountable.
Will it ever happen? Maybe. Maybe not soon, but there is a weariness among the people that longs for connection to others. Small businesses are popping up all over because people like to know those who serve them. I don’t expect large companies or even churches to go away soon, but we are getting tired of narcissists.