DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Narcissistic Leader

Written by: on November 15, 2018

Using the clinical paradigm he describes the dysfunctional behaviors of a leader as a dramatic, suspicious, detached, depressive or compulsive personality and the resulting, potentially dysfunctional organizational culture.”[1]

This was an interesting read on leadership, especially when combined with a video series led by Francis Chan titled “Letters to the Church[2];” which takes a close look at our roles as we serve in the modern day church. Yesterday in our bible class, I could not help but see some fascinating parallels between what Chan was warning about in regard to leadership problems, and what De Vries was discussing in regard to the “narcissism” that could exist…and maybe needs to exist…in every successful leader. For the sake of this reading, I actually found early abstract paper for this book, in which he wrote, “A healthy dose of narcissism is essential for human functioning. It is the danger of excess, particularly in the case of leaders, which gives narcissism its often derogatory connotation[3].” Chan addressed the difficulty churches experience when a leader begins to think to highly of themselves and forgets Who they are really supposed to be answering too.

This issue is actually very important to me because I have seen churches brought down by elders or preachers who thought too highly of themselves. I have been placed in the awkward position with my own father of having to find a new church, because he became convinced that since he secured the funding for a church building, it was “his” church to control. I thought about De Vries assertion that leaders needed a healthy balance of narcissism; and upon honest reflection, could not deny that there was definitely some present within my own persona. David McIntosh translated part of this explanation to mean that, “everyone has a core drama that leads to their personality style. What makes each of us the person we are is the dominance of some inner wish; the wish to be loved, or to be understood, or noticed; the wish to be free from conflict, or to help, or to be able to hurt others; the wish to achieve or the wish to fail[4].” Perhaps this is the root of the problem in ministerial leadership today; if our ‘wish’ is based upon personal desires, then they become conflicted with the Godly desires. At what point does the personal interfere with the divine?

De Vries went on to write in his early paper that, “From many in-depth studies of leaders I have concluded that a considerable percentage of them have become what they are for negative reasons.[5]” This reminded me of the conditional promise that God made to Solomon when he became king: “So IF you walk in MY ways, to keep MY statutes and MY commandments, as your father David walked, THEN I will lengthen your days[6].” While reviewing the life and monarchy of King Solomon, we are clearly shown that he failed to do this on many occasions. Therefore, as we read and study the path of leadership, especially in regards to global evangelism, I believe we are forced to self-reflect on the type of leaders we are trying to be. Though I recognize that I too suffer at time from narcissistic tendencies, does that become my justification or my curse? Though narcissism may be a quality found in many leaders today, does that excuse it?

I always feel like I am preaching in these posts, however, I do not know how to separate the leadership from the ministry in my own life; I am always hoping that I not only learn how to improve upon myself as a Christian leader, but also inspire others to improve as well. One of the verses that challenge me daily in this area is the comment Christ made to Judas in John 14:23-24a: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep MY word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words…”  De Vries wrote, “True reactive narcissists tend to have a grandiose sense of self-importance[7].” However, true Christian leaders should tend to have a sense of God-importance…not self.

I thought about how this part of the reading might relate to my own dissertation and came up with the final conclusion: I am writing on the lack of consideration that churches have started to give to the role that baptism plays in our relationship with God, Christ and the Holy Spirit. My foundation for my research starts with the Bible and what it teaches us regarding purpose and necessity surrounding the topic of baptism. The problem as I see it, is that church leaders have given in to peer pressure, simplicity in worship, and lack of bible study to make these changes. For this reason, it would seem that the narcissistic attitude toward what God has deemed appropriate and necessary has been dramatically changed by what Christian leaders have deemed acceptable to the them rather than God.

I think perhaps this has been my greatest struggle with most of the leadership books we have read throughout this program; I believe that there is a difference between what makes a great leader, and what makes a great Christian leader. Our motives, methods, and goals will never fully correspond to one another, and for that reason, should be cautious when using the same evaluating tools for self-assessment.

“Let my heart be blameless regarding YOUR statutes, that I may NOT be ashamed.” Psalms 119:80

 

Bibliography

Letters to the Church. Performed by Francis Chan. 2018.

Love, Bryan. Researchgate.net. October 2002. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/47739380_Manfred_Kets_de_Vries_The_Leadership_Mystique_-_a_users’_manual_for_the_human_enterprise_Prentice_Hall_Great_Britain_2001 (accessed November 11, 2018).

McIntosh, David S. MBA Depot. May 2, 2002. https://www.mbadepot.com/the-leadership-mystique-a-users-manual-for-the-human-enterprise/ (accessed November 15, 2018).

Vries, Manfred F.R. Kets de. Flora.insead.edu. 1994. https://flora.insead.edu/fichiersti_wp/Inseadwp1994/94-08.pdf (accessed November 11, 2018).

Vries, Manfred Kets De. The Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise. Prentice Hall: Financial Times, 2006.

[1] Love, Bryan. Researchgate.net. October 2002. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/47739380_Manfred_Kets_de_Vries_The_Leadership_Mystique_-_a_users’_manual_for_the_human_enterprise_Prentice_Hall_Great_Britain_2001 (accessed November 11, 2018).

[2] Letters to the Church. Performed by Francis Chan. 2018.

[3] Vries, Manfred F.R. Kets de. Flora.insead.edu. 1994. https://flora.insead.edu/fichiersti_wp/Inseadwp1994/94-08.pdf (accessed November 11, 2018). P 22.

[4] McIntosh, David S. MBA Depot. May 2, 2002. https://www.mbadepot.com/the-leadership-mystique-a-users-manual-for-the-human-enterprise/ (accessed November 15, 2018).

 

[5] Vries, Manfred F.R. Kets de. Flora.insead.edu. 1994. https://flora.insead.edu/fichiersti_wp/Inseadwp1994/94-08.pdf (accessed November 11, 2018). P 25.

[6] I Kings 3:14.

[7] Vries, Manfred F.R. Kets de. Flora.insead.edu. 1994. https://flora.insead.edu/fichiersti_wp/Inseadwp1994/94-08.pdf (accessed November 11, 2018). P 25.

About the Author

Shawn Hart

10 responses to “The Narcissistic Leader”

  1. Shawn,

    Yes that is an interesting observation you make at the end of your post: that there is a difference between what makes a great leader and what makes a great Christian leader.

    With your focus on recovering a more prominent and meaningful place of baptism within the local church community, you are making the right steps towards great Christian leadership.

    PS. I’m glad someone included a Dilbert cartoon.

    • Shawn Hart says:

      Baptism is just one area that I believe we need to refocus our church leaders today. There seem to be too many distractions, too many misdirected priorities, and too many alternate motivations; it is time we regain our focus on the Gospel.

  2. Loved your honest reflective post Shawn! You bring up some good points regarding Narcissism, and yes you are right that many leaders tend to have many of these qualities. The problem is, there is a very fine line between having some of these traits and being a very destructive and abusive leader. I have seen too many Narcissists come through my door and have had to hear about all the destruction left in their wake. Most of them have no personal insight into their own dysfunction and I have seen this with may church leaders as well. Hopefully leaders can find a healthy Godly strength in their leadership without having to have the universe revolve around them 🙂

    • Shawn Hart says:

      Great point Jake. You actually hit upon a thought that occupied me during this project…Does a narcissist every admit that he/she has a problem? It’s almost like any other addiction problem; only they are addicted to the sound of their own voice. They will never see the flaw, because they only see their way as the right way…which, as you state…can be very destructive.

  3. mm M Webb says:

    Shawn,
    Excellent use of Chan to compare with de Vries in your opening. I like the way your talk about what a “healthy” dose of narcissism looks like. Unfortunately, it is a slippery slope for humans and angels, as seen in the fall of Satan. Self-love is like playing with fire, someone is always going to get burnt.
    Thanks for the transparent discussion about “whose church” you serve? Your father’s, your’s, or God’s? That is a real challenge for sure. Looking at what Paul describes as works of the flesh versus fruit of the spirit is very interesting when discussing narcissism (Gal. 5:19-23). How do you think self-love fits into one side or the other? Flesh or Spirit?
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

    • Shawn Hart says:

      I actually think that the self-love issue is everything in this discussion. Sadly, I believe we have really seen our society push toward a more self-focused mentality; take care of yourself first, then if you have time, tend to others. I knew a preacher that told his congregation when his office hours were, and then warned them not to dare try contacting him after that. Sadly, he never saw the effects of that kind of attitude…he just decided that it was his time no matter what.

  4. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    Great biblical commentary on the issues presented in leadership mystique. We can learn from secular voices but we might have to reject a lot more

    Well done

    • Shawn Hart says:

      I don’t want to come across in a manner that says that I don’t see value or merit to these types of readings; however, I do believe that we must realize the difference between what might be regarded as a successful worldly leader, and what might be regarded as a successful Christian one.

  5. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Shawn,

    I actually found that same quote regarding narcissism and had not considered its positive aspects until then. The school in which I currently work had a very bad experience with a imbalanced narcissist as president for several years. Even after he was dismissed 4 years ago we are reaping consequences of his misguided leadership. So it was challenging for me to think about narcissism in any positive light until I considered De Vries comment.

    In your distinction between great leaders and great Christian leaders do you think that narcissism is still an issue? Can you be a great Christian leader and still have narcissistic tendencies?

  6. Shawn Hart says:

    Dan, without sounding narcissistic, I try to be a ‘great’ Christian leader every day…I’ll let God determine whether or not I ever achieve that. However, I know I have some of those tendencies, and perhaps, they are the very characteristic that some people find attractive in my leadership. However, like any quality I possess, I must make sure that I allow the Holy Spirit to guide it rather than my selfishness. I think about Barnabas in the early parts of Acts; he was one of the go to guys, and more importantly, the one that stood up against everyone else and vouched for Saul (Paul). He was obviously confident and well spoken, and yet, by the later parts of
    Acts, instead of Barnabas and Saul, it became Paul and those accompanying him. So with his character, even if there was narcissism there, Barnabas embraced the humility instead. I suppose that’s the secret to success.

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