Narcissism. People use the word all the time… usually in a negative way… without really understanding the meaning of it. This term, generally speaking, is used to describe a person that is self-seeking, self-absorbed, and who largely puts their own well-being as top priority in life. The term has its origin in a Greek mythological story of a man, named Narcissus, who falls in love with himself after looking at his reflection in a pool of water.
But what does all this have to do with being an entrepreneur and a leader of innovation? Believe it or not, being a narcissist leads to success in business and isn’t as bad of a thing as everyone tries to make it out to be. Why? Largely because starting a business, running a corporation, and working for yourself takes dedication, guts, determination, and truly being in love with your own ideas enough to pursue them heavily. In order to go from an average Joe, who has big plans, to a successful entrepreneur who moves and shakes the world, there has to be some amount of self-service.
Anyone who has ever stepped out of the ordinary and took a flying leap into the extraordinary unknown had to have a reason for doing so. Let’s be honest… no one wakes up on a Tuesday morning, decides to instantaneously throw caution to the wind, and becomes an entrepreneur. No one invests every penny they have, works 80 plus hours a week, and mortgages everything they own just for the hell of it. No, people who do these kinds of things almost always have spent some time, like Narcissus, staring into the pool of life and falling in love with their reflection. They have calculated their own worth and found it to be more valuable than everyone gives them credit for. They have kicked their own ass into gear, become their own cheering squad, and made the decision to show the world what they already know to be true… that they are great.
But the need for narcissism doesn’t stop here at all. Once you have decided that you can… and will… do something epic, you have to be able to sell it to the world. And who better to do this than someone who loves themselves a little too much? It seems that the best self promoters are those who have narcissist tendencies. They aren’t afraid to talk about what they are doing, demand a fair price for their work, and they don’t usually let rejections spoil their ambition. If ten thousand people say no, they just head back to the pool, rekindle their self-love, and keep looking for the person who will give them the chance they deserve. Arrogant? Maybe. Effective? Absolutely!
But what happens to a narcissistic person who finally achieves what they want? What becomes of them when they have to take on a leadership role that requires them to promote and help others under them? Simply put, their narcissism keeps them productive and always pushing those under and around them towards accomplishment. Narcissistic individuals make wonderful leaders because they know what they want, they don’t take shit from people who attempt to manipulate them, and they closely care for and protect those that contribute to their success. They are generally not moved by circumstances and they keep the morale and confidence high within their camp. People want to follow and devote themselves to a winner and a narcissist always believes themselves to be just that.
Finally, narcissism keeps a person focused and goal oriented. Once a narcissist has made a decision, there really is very little that will halt their progress. Even traits like compulsion and impatience have a way of propelling a person to the top of the world, simply because they believe that they belong there and are entitled to that place. Narcissists know what they want out of life and they use whatever tools they have at their disposal to make it happen.
In closing, I am reminded of something that I once read about former Apple CEO Steve Jobs. This entrepreneurial genius, it seems, was also a bit of a narcissist. In the book, The Real Genius Of Steve Jobs, he is described as a complicated and exhausting man. One line from the book reads, “He gets stopped for driving a hundred miles an hour, honks angrily at the officer for taking too long to write up the ticket, and then resumes his journey at a hundred miles an hour. He sits in a restaurant and sends his food back three times. He arrives at his hotel suite in New York for press interviews and decides, at 10 P.M., that the piano needs to be repositioned, the strawberries are inadequate, and the flowers are all wrong…” While these behaviors may seem extreme to some, I like what Malcolm Gladwell, staff journalist for the New Yorker, had to say about his personality: “The great accomplishment of Jobs’s life is how effectively he put his idiosyncrasies – his petulance, his narcissism, and his rudeness – in the service of perfection.”
So, if you have found yourself spending a little too much time looking in the pool because you like what you see so well, don’t be afraid. Let your self-loving, narcissistic ways drive you to the top of the food chain and to success.