Today, AACC’s World Conference begins at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville. This morning, Dr. Diane Langberg and myself will be running a pre-conference workshop entitled: Narcissistic Leaders and Organizations: Assessment and Intervention. I will start us off with a meditation from 1 Kings 1 (ideas I first heard from a sermon by Phil Ryken last year). We will review current explanations of narcissism as well as an emerging model that may be helpful for those who are trying to move beyond seeing narcissists as only arrogant and exploitive.
Can a system be narcissistic?
Yes. Here are some of the features.
- Leader exudes god-like status and does not share power; surrounded by yea-sayers, unwilling to tolerate disagreement, accept mentoring and willing to scapegoat others when failures arise
- Constituents gain self-esteem/identity from the organization and love of the system is the highest priority; insider status provides immeasurable value
- There is an approved way of thinking, one must take sides for/against; constituents justify dictatorial behaviors of leaders
- No toleration for admiration of competitors
- Inability to assess own weaknesses
But, here is a most interesting fact: most collective narcissistic systems are NOT filled with individual narcissists! There is something “in the water” that brings non-narcissists together to develop these 4 features (as written about by Golec de Zavala and colleagues in 104:6 of the the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology):
- Inflated belief and emotional investment in group superiority
- Required continuous external validation and vigilance against all threats of loss of status
- Perception that intergroup criticism is a threat and exaggerated sensitivity to any form of criticism
- Intergroup violence can restore positive group image (violence may be verbal as well as physical
Why teach counselors about narcissistic systems?
Counselors often interact with church and parachurch systems by consulting with the system, counseling leaders, or advocating for an individual client. It is good to be able to (a) recognize some of the unhealthy egocentric patterns (blind spots) leaders and systems develop, and (b) offer help to individuals and systems that do not get the counselor sucked into the system or unnecessarily alienate the system. I have had the opportunity to work with a significant number of churches and have learned that there are ways to help and ways that I can get in the way, especially if I begin to attack a long held belief system. For example, if parachurch organization A has had a string of CEO/Board conflicts, then I as a counselor may have to navigate some long cherished beliefs about the system when asked to consult on their next hire.