Have you ever wondered why the term Napoleon Complex came to be following the tyranny of Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon was narcissistic and had overly grandiose beliefs and aggressive behavior. The thinking is that this was the direct result of his internal feelings of inferiority. The phrase Napoleon Complex was panned to describe someone that was self-conscious about themselves and allowed these feelings to fuel their need for power and control just as Napoleon had once done.
“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”
The narcissistic leaders portray themselves as false and fictitious sense of self, leading their followers to fear them. Their grasp on reality is loose and their self-perceptions feed on this to exacerbate the narcissism. “The narcissistic leader prefers the sparkle and glamour of well-orchestrated illusions to the tedium and method of real accomplishments. His reign is all smoke and mirrors, devoid of substances, consisting of mere appearances and mass delusions (Maccoby, 2007)”.
Using Napoleon as an example, narcissistic leadership is a negative behavior. There is some thought that narcissistic leadership can also be on the positive end of the spectrum. The confidence that narcissistic leaders display often makes followers confident in their leader. Confidence is necessary of a leader to succeed and get done what needs to be done. The key to this is preventing narcissism from taking the leader to the dark side of leadership.
Narcissists tend to lack empathy and their impact on those around them is often lost on them. It would never occur to a narcissistic leader that their behaviors have a completely negative effect on their employees. And therein lies the problem, that the leader is better than others, that they are abrove reproach and can get away with anything.
In contrast, leaders who are charismatic, creative, curious and informed tend to make them good leaders as this method of thinking can allow them to see the big picture and have the best interests of all involved in mind when decisions are made. This openness is quite opposite compared to narcissism in which the self-sided thinking makes the needs of others non-existent.
In summary, the traits that envelop a narcissistic leader are those that are in contrast to those of a charismatic and open leader. Narcissism funnels the leaders views to only focus on themselves and not consider the good of anyone else involved. Such as the case with Napoleon Bonaparte, who went down in history as one of the most infamous narcissistic leaders of all time.
Maccoby, M. (2007). Narcissistic Leaders: Who Succeeds and Who Fails. Harvard Business Review Press.