Some Important Narcissistic Leaders in History

napoleon

Napoleon was considered a tyrant with grandiose beliefs and overly aggressive behavior, allegedly to make up for feelings of inferiority (origination for the term ‘Napoleon Complex’). He was so feared that a nursery rhyme was written to scare children into behaving (“the Bogeyman”).

“It was precisely that evening in Lodi that I came to believe in myself as an unusual person and became consumed with the ambition to do the great things that until then had been but a fantasy.”

Napoleon Bonaparte, “Thoughts”

What makes a leader a narcissist?

Narcissists have vision; but then again so do people in psychiatric hospitals. The basic definition of a leader is someone whom other people will follow; narcissistic leadership is a leadership style in which the leaders’ main goal is serving self-interest at the expense of their people or group members. Narcissists tend to be appealing and quite adept at attracting followers. They often do so through language and believe that their inspiring speeches can influence people. Narcissistic leaders are accomplished and charismatic speakers. “Indeed, anyone who has seen narcissists perform can attest to their personal magnetism and their ability to stir enthusiasm among audiences.” (Maccoby, 2000).

Although most people think that followers need their leader, it is also true that narcissistic leaders need their followers. A narcissist seeks and indeed, needs praise and admiration from his admirers. Think of Winston Churchill’s wartime broadcasts or JFK’s “Ask not what your country can do for you” inaugural address. The admiration that followed these speeches reinforced the self-confidence and beliefs of the speakers. Typically, as the narcissist becomes increasingly self-assured, he or she becomes more spontaneous and feels freer from previous constraints. They not too uncommonly begin to think they are invincible. Their stronger confidence and increased energy further increases their followers’ enthusiasm. Unfortunately, the admiration that a narcissist demands can have a negative effect. As he grows in power, he listens even less to words of caution or advice from his subordinates or from his people. He does not try to persuade those who disagree with him but instead he ignores them (or their advice) or in the case of some dictators, has them deposed or otherwise gotten rid of. The result is sometimes brazen risk taking that can lead to catastrophe of historical proportions. In recent history, a clear example of this was the scandalous events that plagued Bill Clinton.

billclinton

Weaknesses of the Narcissistic Leader

Narcissists are usually not at ease with, or sometimes even aware of, their emotions, indeed they are often described as unemotional. They tend only to listen for the kind of information they are seeking at the moment. They generally don’t learn well from others unless they view that person as an equal superior being. They don’t like to teach per se but they do believe heartily in indoctrination and making speeches. They will try to dominate meetings with subordinates as well as equals. One of the significant weaknesses of a narcissistic leader is that his faults become even more magnified the more successful he becomes.

Sensitive to Criticism. Due to their extreme sensitivity to even the slightest comment that they view as negative, narcissistic leaders tend to shun all emotions. Narcissistic leaders typically keep others at a distance and can become quite emotionally isolated. They can put up a wall of emotional armor as thick as Fort Knox. Given their difficulty with knowing or acknowledging their own feelings, they are most uncomfortable with other people expressing theirs, especially if theirs are negative feelings. Narcissists are ‘thin-skinned and bruise easily’. This is certainly one of the reasons why narcissistic leaders prefer not to know what people think of them. They genuinely do not care what others think unless it has become a problem for them. Furthermore, they cannot tolerate dissent especially among those closest in command next to them. Although narcissistic leaders (not dictators) might say that they want teamwork, what they really want is a group of people who agree with them.

Poor Listeners. Another negative consequence of their extreme sensitivity to criticism is that these leaders often do not listen, especially when they feel emotionally threatened or verbally attacked. Consequently, some narcissistic leaders become overly defensive and go so far as to make the fact that they don’t listen a desirable quality with such statements as, “I didn’t get here by listening to people!” Maccoby (2000) tells the story of a CEO who on one occasion proposed a daring strategy and none of his subordinates believed it would work. His strategy subsequently met with success; this only strengthened his conviction that he had nothing to learn about strategy from his lieutenants.

Lack of Empathy.  Narcissists, in general, demand empathy from others yet they are characteristically lacking in empathy themselves. Lack of empathy is a defining trait of some of the most charismatic and successful narcissistic leaders. But a lack of empathy in themselves did not prevent some of history’s greatest narcissistic leaders from knowing how to communicate and inspire. Neither Churchill, de Gaulle, Stalin, nor Mao Tse-tung was empathetic. Yet they inspired people due to their passion and conviction at a time when people longed for certainty.

alexanderthegreat

Alexander the Great had the characteristics of a rampant narcissist. Fortified with grandiose visions, Alexander mobilized a massive army for the sole purpose of meeting his personal ambitions. His view of the world was narrowed by his belief that everyone was either his supporter or his despised enemy. His unending war mongering and conquests, at the great expense of his generals and soldiers, is an indication of Alexander’s lack of empathy for those he led.

 

Narcissists do have an emotional cleverness but it is rooted more in exploitation than empathy. Narcissistic leaders are intensely aware of which people are “with” them unconditionally and which ones are not. They know whom they can use and they don’t think twice about being callously manipulative. That explains why narcissists are often unlikable despite their charm, charisma and personal magnetism. They tend to provoke opposition, and often people are only willing to tolerate a narcissist as a leader at times of turmoil.

HenritheEight

Henry the Eighth was famous for his 6 wives and his quest to have a son for political reasons and from personal vanity. He was considered one of the most charismatic rulers in England yet his reputation was one of being harsh, insecure and egotistical. History suggests that he exhibited grandiosity and entitlement.

Other Leaders with Narcissistic Traits

  • Mahatma Ghandi
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt
  • Muammar Qaddafi
  • Adolf Hitler
  • Pol Pot
  • Stalin
  • Most dictators

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References:

http://www.maccoby.com/Articles/NarLeaders.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissistic_leadership

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9 Responses to “Some Important Narcissistic Leaders in History”

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  1. Joe Carona says:

    You put Clinton and FDR in the same group of Narcissists as Hitler and Pol Pot….
    Two presidents that were sensitive to human suffering and created policies to improve their condition.
    Ridiculous….

    • Kane Jackson says:

      Narcissism is a spectrum. And I know a few Japanese people who would disagree about FDR.

      • D Eigoya says:

        Harry Truman had the bomb dropped if that’s what you’re getting at, or was it the fire bombings? Well war is hell. Just ask the Chinese living in Manchuria in the 30-40s…..

    • Louise Sutherland-Hoyt says:

      It’s not the individual, it’s the condition. Narcissists are clever at being falsely humble in order to offset their grandiosity. Wise up.

  2. Norman Gauss says:

    Hitler was obsessed with absolutes, which he created in his own mind. Hitler’s obsession of with a pure Aryan race contradicts all that was known about the benefits of genetic diversity. Inbreeding everywhere was known to be detrimental, yet he ignored these findings. Jews had contributed much more to science, math, and the arts than the Nordic types, but Hitler did not want to think about this.

    In Pol Pot’s case he was working on Communist theory. In his mind, the bourgeoisie were evil, so he banished them to the countryside. Because people naturally trended toward capitalism when not forced otherwise, this went against Communist theory. Theory trumped reality.

    FDR and Clinton dealt with the realities confronting them rather than creating new realities or slavishly following a philosophical idea.

    Churchill’s failures were caused by concepts not supported by data. His idea of invading Gallipoli did not take into consideration all the unknowns before he confidently promoted the project. Also, his idea of launching military action in Italy because it was “the soft underbelly” ignored the fact that Italy’s rugged terrain contrasts tremendously with the flat terrain of North Africa. The Italian campaign was much tougher than Churchill had envisioned.

    • Ahriman says:

      North Africa had rough terrain too, and very rough climate. What made the difference, was that both sides needed to ship in supplies by sea. In North Africa, the Allies had a huge advantage in shipping, ports, and fuel. Sicily to Tunisia may have seemed like a short jump for the Axis, but it wasn’t, especially with the Allied base at Malta close by. In Italy, the Axis could very easily supply their troops by land. Also the narrowness of the Italian peninsula made it easy to defend.

  3. Christine Thieman says:

    I think you need to go back to the books!!! Ghandi was a leader who unbeknownst to many studied the attributes of Jesus Christ, and His teachings through the Sermon on the Mount, which Ghandi used to meditate upon 2 hours every day. His teachings a filled with words of love, inclusiveness, and peace.

    How you’ve got him here along with Hitler, I think is a mistake.

  4. Roger says:

    First lets be clear. To be narcissistic is to mean that an individual craves attention. Plus, the world should rotate around him. We then need to add Trump’s trait for being a entrepreneur. (Born out the fact Trump was always trying to get his fathers approval. The relationship was not a warm one.) Trump has not proved he will put his country before his own self interests. Remember the accusation of Trump having “small hands”? Trump may have to be compensating because of his father’s treatment, resulting in erratic behavior. All of this adds up to the fact that Trump doesn’t have the temperament to be President.

    Hang on, it’s going to be a rough ride.

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