Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Bill Kinnon is writing about the Narcissistic Personality Disorder and church leaders.  Narcissistic Personality Disorder is not simply about taking normal egoism to extremes. NPD is one of fewer than a dozen personality disorders described by the American Psychiatric Association. These differ from the major mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and manic-depression, which are believed to have a biological origin. Personality disorders are seen as a failure of character development.

As Bill points out, it is a disorder that is seen in church leadership.

For the NPD church leader, church is all about numbers and size. The church reflects who they are. And provides them with the lifestyle they believe they deserve. NPD’s are particularly gifted at winning affection by selling you what you want to be sold.

Like Bill I know of a couple of pastors who fit this profile.  One told me once that as long as he as the visionary leader survived, everyone else on his staff was expendable.  His vision and best interest trumped that of the community and the community’s primary job was to support him.

Of course one would like to see the wider church community confront and help bring healing to these leaders (and their communities) but in many ways the system feeds their disorder.  Powerful pastors are often outside their denominations or in some ways, bigger than their denominations.  In many ways they become in a microcosm  AIG’s or Citigroup, they are the ecclesiastical version of too big to fail, or in this case, fall.  Robert Webber once said that what drives the evangelical church was big buildings and powerful pastors and I don’t think he is that far out of line.

If the building is getting big and the pastor has influence, we tend to look the other way.  I heard one person dismiss the ethical failings of their pastor by observing what a great evangelist they were.

Over the last couple of days I have been getting a new computer up to speed.  Lot’s of downloading, updating, rebooting, downloading, updating… While I was sitting there I picked from Good to Great by Jim Collins.  I have always been a fan of Collins.  His views on business are often quoted in the church out of context but in the field which he is writing, I appreciate him a lot.  It’s odd because for all that he is quoted on leadership, people seem to ignore that he is describing the antithesis of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder leader.  His Level 5 leader is devoted to the cause, not to the fame.  He has a great line in one of his books about Lee Iacocca where he said that Lee Iacocca was distracted from running Chrysler by being Lee Iacocca.

He writes

Virtually everything our modern culture believes about the type of leadership required to transform our institutions is wrong. It is also dangerous. There is perhaps no more corrosive trend to the health of our organizations than the rise of the celebrity CEO, the rock-star leader whose deepest ambition is first and foremost self-centric.

He continues with more thoughts on a Level 5 leader

On the one hand… Creates—and is a clear catalyst in creating—superb results. Yet on the other hand… Demonstrates a compelling modesty, shunning public adulation and never boastful.

On the one hand… Demonstrates an unwavering resolve to do whatever must be done to produce the best long-term results, no matter how difficult. Yet on the other hand… Acts with quiet, calm determination and relies principally on inspired standards—not an inspiring personality—to motivate.

On the one hand… Sets the standard of building an enduring great organization and will settle for nothing less. Yet on the other hand… Channels ambition into the organization and its work, not the self, setting up successors for even greater success in the next generation.

On the one hand… Looks in the mirror, not out the window, to apportion responsibility for poor results, never blaming other people, external factors, or bad luck. Yet on the other hand… Looks out the window, not in the mirror, to apportion credit for the success of the company—to other people, external factors, and good luck.

I used to think of these leaders as rare birds, almost freaks of nature. But then a funny thing happened after a seminar where I shared the Level 5 finding and bemoaned the lack of Level 5 leaders. After the session, a number of people stopped by to give examples of Level 5 leaders they’d observed or worked with. Then again, at another seminar, the same thing happened. Then again, at a third seminar—and a pattern began to emerge.

It turns out that many people have experienced Level 5 leadership somewhere in their development—a Level 5 sports coach, a Level 5 platoon commander, a Level 5 boss, a Level 5 entrepreneur, a Level 5 CEO. There is a common refrain: “I couldn’t understand or put my finger on what made him so effective, but now I understand: he was a Level 5.” People began to clip articles and send e-mails with examples of people they think of as Level 5 leaders, past or present: Orin Smith of Starbucks Coffee, Joe Torre of the New York Yankees, Kristine McDivitt of Patagonia, John Whitehead of Goldman Sachs, Frances Hesselbein of The Drucker Foundation, Jack Brennan of Vanguard, John Morgridge of Cisco Systems, former Secretary of State George Shultz, and so on. My list of Level 5 leaders began to grow exponentially.

Then it dawned on me: Our problem is not a shortage of Level 5 leaders. They exist all around us. Like the drawing of two faces that transforms itself into a vase, depending on how you look at the picture, Level 5 leadership jumps out at us as soon as we change how we look at the world and alter our assumptions about how it best works.

the_brand_called_you1No, our problem lies in the fact that our culture has fallen in love with the idea of the celebrity CEO. Charismatic egotists who swoop in to save companies grace the covers of major magazines because they are much more interesting to read and write about than people like Darwin Smith and David Maxwell. This fuels the mistaken belief held by many directors that a high-profile, larger-than-life leader is required to make a company great. We keep putting people into positions of power who lack the inclination to become Level 5 leaders, and that is one key reason why so few companies ever make a sustained and verifiable shift from good to great.

Sadly you don’t see a lot of Level Five leaders writing books or speaking at conferences (although there are exceptions).  Tom Peters may disagree with me but they aren’t that interested in the Brand Called You, they are serving out there serving somewhere and trying to make a difference in the world and not worried about themselves or their own career.

7 thoughts on “Narcissistic Personality Disorder”

  1. Look at Borderline Personality Disorder, too.

    In general, both the congregation and the leadership of megachurches (and smaller ones) tends to have a greater percentage of people with disorders. Maybe because much of membership growth comes from recovery groups hosted by the churches?

    In general, contemporary church appeals to those with an external locus of control. They want to be entertained.

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