The latest wrinkle in the national conversation about the epidemic of narcissism is the question: Is it simply a disagreeable personality flaw or a form of mental illness? With flashes of her own seeming narcissism, writer Kay Waldman explores this issue on Slate. Here is that discussion.
However, an issue closer to home in the Darwinian field of professional services is if total self-absorption, usually served up with a side dish of arrogance, hurts a lawyer's success? In a recent interview with Forbes, Ed Newberry of Squire Patton Boggs described the life-and-death struggle myriad law firms are having currently. Here is that interview.
Lawyers in those firms and the very ethos of the inward-looking culture could be actually creating the death march. The language and behavior of much of commercial dealings are indirect. Few are probably saying explicitly that lawyers' and law firms' narcissistic traits are obstales to landing new business, preventing client churn, motivating associates and staff, attracting media coverage, hiring brandname laterals and obtaining warm and fuzzies from family and friends.
Instead, we human beings tend to register our disapproval of how we are treated by narcissists indirectly.
We badmouth them behind their back, often severely damaging their reputations.
We hold back on delivering the highest quality work product, especially if we know we are on short time at the firm as an emeployee or as a vendor to the firm.
We hold back information about hidden new business opportunities and how to configure the proposal.
We feed them misleading information. We compliment the patterns of behavior which are getting them in trouble, as in, "You are certainly a strong leader, Bob." The reality is that they are an abusive bully whose victims are gunning for just the right time to get even.
We diagnose their tragic flaws and relay them to their competitors. All that is useful in those beauty contests to compete for assignments.
The cagey narcissists will get it that their extreme preoccupation with self is a professional problem. They will fix themselves. An introductory course with Dale Carnegie Systems will do the trick. The meme of the Carnegie method is how to win friends and influence people. They will learn the utility of listening and providing a sincere compliment.
The rest will continue to alienate key links in their professional dealings. They will receive that tap on the shoulder, with the message that their time in the legal sector has ended. They may be partners, associates or even staff. Unable to figure out what went wrong it is likely they will self-destruct.