On the destructive nature of narcissist CEOs

Study shows preening egos of many chief executives lead to excessive risk-taking

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Over at Forbes, contributor Eric Jackson has a excellent article about "why narcissistic CEOs kill their companies."

The topic of narcissism always has fascinated me (along with anything regarding the narcissists' more vile egocentric cousins, sociopaths and psychopaths). All three can be found in abundance in our society, but especially in areas where power can be wielded and people abused -- law enforcement, coaching, politics and the corporate corner office, among others.

Nearly all of us know one or more narcissists. These are people who think and behave as if they're the smartest person in the room, who constantly solicit and demand praise and admiration, who have volatile tempers (especially in reaction to perceived criticism), who harbor eternal grudges, who believe others are envious of them, who talk only about themselves and their accomplishments, who take credit for other people's ideas, who never accept responsibility or blame, who are dismissive of other people's problems, etc. For narcissists, it's me me me me me, 24/7.

(The classic joke about narcissists involves a conversation in which the narcissist prattles on and on about his or her self, concluding with, "But enough about me. What do you think about me?" Of course, what you are supposed to think is that the narcissist is the greatest person in the history of the planet.)

Jackson's Forbes piece focuses on research done by Don Hambrick, a professor at the Smeal College of Business at Penn State. Hambrick and co-author Arijit Chatterjee sought to identify narcissistic chief executives and then assess their actions and decisions and their impact on the companies they run.

Of course, no one ever admits to being a narcissist, so the researchers came up with a CEO narcissist index comprising four elements: How big the CEO's photo is in the company's annual report; how frequently the CEO's name is mentioned in company press releases; the chief executives use of first-person singular pronouns when publicly addressing shareholders; and (perhaps most significantly, to me at least), the gap between the CEO's compensation package and that of the company's less-deserving No.

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