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I just finished a book titled “Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times” by Peter Steinke.  I recommend this book – it was a good read.  The book was published in 2006, which got me thinking about the fact that our society has been pretty anxious for some time now.  Much of the book applies today – especially regarding an anxious society and leadership.

The last chapter dealt mostly with narcissism – both dealing with leaders who are narcissists and with congregation members that are closet narcissists.  Fascinating stuff.  But as I was reading it, I couldn’t help drawing parallels beyond the congregational context.  It’s hard not to.  When I read sections in this chapter, my mind kept going to specific figures and names in society – “leaders” as they are often referred to.  But these leaders aren’t leading, they are often making matters worse and raising anxiety levels.  And their followers are sucked right in.  That’s what narcissists do – make people rely on them and feed off of them.  That’s not what leaders do though.

Here’s a few segments from the last chapter of the book. Enjoy.  Or maybe cry.  Either way, it’s worth being aware of these things.

  • The person feels entitled to special consideration and is self-important (often exhibitionistic or dramatic to prove it). (pg. 166)
  • The person is capable of seeing only her perspective, is intolerant of disagreement, doesn’t discuss ideas but imposes them, is single-minded, believes in her own superior wisdom, and doesn’t need help from others. (Pg. 166)
  • The person is ruthless toward those who do not reflect back his projected image of specialness.  He is vindictive, vengeful, devaluing, and abrasive.  He publicly humiliates others and wants others to be wholehearted supporters (“yes” people). (pg. 166)
  • The person is prone to lying and is an expert as disguise. (pg. 167)
  • The narcissist is not as certain as he or she looks, as evidenced by his or her supersensitivity to criticism. (pg. 168)
  • The narcissist is a master at denying reality, projecting an image of invincibility or charisma and coercing the world to refuel his specialness.  There is no transparency in narcissistic functioning.  It’s all varnish and veneer – with lots of charm. (pg. 168)
  • So one person remains intoxicated with all the praise and adulation he manipulates from others, and the others are enthralled to be associated with someone larger than life. (pg. 168)
  • The narcissist functions like a magnet, possessing the power of attraction. People caught in the spell surrender obediently.  Under the spell of enchantment, they become dedicated followers as impervious to reason and truth as infatuated lovers. Many of the disciples of narcissists are vulnerable, lonely, and searching souls who mistake the charm, self-confidence, and certainty for substance, when in reality it is pretentious fluff and feathers. (Pg. 168-9)
  • Not surprisingly, many narcissistic leaders shield their swooning constituency from outside influence. (pg. 169)
  • Many staff, over a period of time, begin to see through the empty praise and the false facade of concern for supporters.  They realize that they are valued only insofar as they reinforce the narcissist’s own glory. They are mere suppliers.  But staff members need to be careful not to expose the sham. (Pg. 170)
  • The charmer is often involved in sexual misconduct, misuse of funds, or in setting oppositional groups. The charmed can be so blinded by the charmer that they defend the narcissistic behavior, even encourage it.  They cannot face the truth of the damage wrought by the spellbinder. (Pg. 171)
  • Nonetheless, the charmer brings havoc to relationships. Others who know and see it are ineffective  in dealing with the “charmer/charmed” problem if they think being nice or expressing goodwill will change things. The game is domination for the narcissist, not cooperation.  A person functioning in a narcissistic way must be held accountable for his behaviors. (Pg. 175)