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April 23, 2003

Jack Covert Selects: Jack Covert Selects - The Productive Narcissist

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 3:41 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

The Productive Narcissist: The Promise and Peril of Visionary Leadership by Michael Maccoby, Broadway, April 2003, 320 pages, $26.95 Hardcover, ISBN 0767910230
Before we start, we need to set something straight. The narcissist Michael Maccoby is talking about is not what you probably have in mind: a vain person so out of touch with reality because theyre always looking in the mirror. Maccoby, a psychoanalyst, is basing his definition off of Freuds narcissist. Freud coined the term to describe the kind of person that impress others as being personalities. They are especially suited to act as a support for others, to take on the role of leaders, and to give a fresh stimulus to cultural development or damage the established state of affairs. In other words, Maccoby says, narcissists have a vision of how things should be and they freely act to achieve that vision. Narcissists often have the idea that they can change the world.
Maccobys experience in psychoanalysis, as well as anthropology and business, contribute to the unique and fresh ideas in The Productive Narcissist. I was really taken aback at some of the things he says in the book. They fly in the face of leadership trends so often championed in recent business books. He argues that the extraordinary leaders of our time are such because of their personality type, not necessarily because of their leadership behaviors or skills. Maccoby takes issue with the bestseller Good to Great which looks at companies who have made a leap to extraordinary success from average performance. The author of that book, Jim Collins, says the leaders of each of those companies all share certain qualities, that they are for the most part humble, modest, gracious, etc. The inference is that these leaders have a high emotional intelligence (another thing Maccoby takes issue with). Maccoby says this kind of leadership is fine for CEOs who are operating companies that are not in innovative businesses; but, if you want innovative leadership in an industry that is changing the way people live in some way, you need to look at a persons personality traits. He points to people like Martha Stewart, Henry Ford, Jack Welch, and Bill Gates to illustrate his points. Through many examples, Maccoby shows how some actions by the above mentioned are not necessarily greatsometimes even rude or cut-throat; but they consistently get the job done, and with incredible results.
The book focuses on personality types: what their characteristics are, how to determine them, and how to deal with them. Maccoby is fair-handed and shares both the strengths and weaknesses of each type. He also differentiates between the different levels of productivity a person can achieve. If a person gives in to his weaknesses too much, he can become unproductive. Again using many examples from the business, entertainment, and sports industries, Maccoby clearly illustrates his points. He also argues for his concept of strategic intelligence which has five elements: foresight, systems thinking, visioning, motivating, and partnering. While strategic intelligence can help any personality type, the narcissist type especially needs to work on strategic intelligence. It is what could keep him from the disastrous decline that is common among the personality type.
Another thing I liked about the book is the personality test. After you find out which type you most closely resemble, youll be able to put many of the ideas in this book to work for you. Youll know what to do if you are a narcissist; and if youre not one, youll know how to better work with one.
This is a fascinating book. I like Maccobys approach; it is much more concrete than some of the self-help approaches in many business books. Maccoby gets at the root of businesspeople and what makes them tick; not management theories or cost-reduction plans. This book is definitely worth the read.

About Dylan Schleicher


Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.