The Mind of the Narcissist – Leader or not (Clarke & Heilbrunn)

Does the description below extracted from “Malignant Self Love : Narcissism Revisited” by Sam Vaknin, being the FOREWARD by Ken Heilbrunn, M.D., sound like the kind of person you want to lead your business? Your project? Your negotiation team? Your specialist technical department? Your finance team? Your public sector body? Your professional practice? Your hospital? Your NGO? Charity? School? University? Ethics faculty? Sports club? Cultural body? Religious organisation? Armed Forces? Government and Nation? 

Yet time and time again throughout the centuries many such people would appear to have charmed, deceived and intimidated their way into such roles and many, many more for which they were psychologically and emotionally ill equipped, being moody and temperamental, seeking self praise but failing to encourage others when most warranted, instead seeming to derive pleasure from not only criticising but even humiliating others, yet apparently incapable of coping with an iota of criticism themselves and blaming anyone and everyone else for their own failings, leading to a “blame culture” sometimes throughout the entire organisation.

Even if they managed to mask their inadequacies much of the time, and intimidate those who identified them for who they were into silence or submission, eventually it can become apparent that they were not who they seemed to be, lacked the talent and emotional intelligence to inspire the organisation forward in the right direction in a cooperative, unified and generally harmonious, constructive and visionary manner, especially when only their ideas counted and their more visionary coworkers did not feel safe or secure to be at their most creative and air their suggestions, given that their leader held long-term grudges against those who dared voice different opinions to his or her own. 

Even more concerning perhaps is when they are NOT identified for who they actually are, with their consistent intimidatory traits, maltreatment of coworkers, disdain and contempt for others within and outside the entity, extraordinary self-belief and conceited arrogance somehow far too frequently and quite erroneously associated with “strong leadership”.

When these and many similar behaviours become applauded and such a part of “the way we do things” that others come to believe that if they want to progress through the organisation, they also need to engage in rudeness, crudeness, contempt and cruelty, there clearly is something wrong.

When what I describe as a “5C Culture” or “Counterproductively Competitive and Combative Corporate Culture” becomes the norm, along with unnecessary (and counterproductive) conflict, disagreement, disharmony and disloyalty, given that harmony, cooperation, collaboration, compassion, concern and kindness between coworkers are frowned upon, there clearly is something wrong.

But how many consider that such environments may not only be counterproductive, with blame replacing forgiveness, people performing well below their best and a “management team” not functioning as it should, could be the result of the dysfunctional and delusional mindset of a disturbed and “disordered leader”, whose bizarre behaviour includes seeming to be unhappy experiencing others happiness and having an insatiable need to disturb this, being essentially happy making others unhappy, may not be “strong” leaders at all, but actually quite weak, insecure and emotionally deficient, not full of self-confidence but self-doubt, needing to make others feel bad so they can feel good?

Does this sound like the right kind of person to manage a corner shop let alone multinational corporation, financial institution, government or nation?

Even after their entity has failed, with many lives adversely affected, these ruth-less people (meaning devoid of empathy, compassion, sympathy and remorse) still cannot see that they did anything wrong.

Those lacking a sense of wrong must have something wrong with them, as must those far more interested in themselves than those they are trusted to responsible lead. 

All the apparent intelligence in the world may be of little real value, if none of it is emotional, because at the end of the day most people like being liked, appreciated, praised and encouraged and don’t respond well to being disrespected, disliked, discouraged and humiliated.

The most astute and emotionally intelligent “Constructive Leaders” well appreciate that there is no humility in humiliation nor humiliation in humility.

So why do we continue to choose or allow so many “Disordered Leaders” who thrive on practicing “Destructive Leadership” to mis-lead so many of the entities throughout perhaps every sector of global society?

Could it be because too many decision-makers outside the psychological profession are unaware what constitutes a “Personalty Disorder” and what the tell-tale signs might actually be?

One of the most critical matters to appreciate is that as such people see things differently and behave quite differently from most others in society, they must be recognised by others as being different and hence dealt with substantially differently.

A starting point in eradicating the seditiously self-centred influence on society of people with potentially disordered personalities needs to be no longer associating charm with leadership potential and dictatorial traits with leadership ability, rather seeing through their “mask of normality” of surface level appeal in a quest for greater depths of genuine empathy and an authentic interest in both other people and indeed society itself.

Perhaps throughout history, society would appear to have mistaken charm, arrogance and even callous ruthlessness for “managerial ability” because when we appoint highly self-centred people to leadership positions, we consistently mistake outwardly dynamic displays of confidence and talk of integrity for strength of character and intimidatory traits for strength of leadership, when in reality such fundamentally weak and perhaps childlike people may possess neither.

Talking the talk is no substitute for actually being capable of walking the walk. Indeed in their case there may be a deep disconnect between their talk and their deeds.

Their greatest talent can be their ability to frequently hide their total lack of consideration for the interests and needs of others and their necessity to dominate, control and damage them emotionally.

Too many in society appear unaware what day-to day behavioural traits self-centred leaders display, particularly those who may be capable of being diagnosed with any of a range of Personality Disorders, notably Cluster B including Narcissistic.

Those with 

Recognising relevant behavioural traits could assist diminish the negative impact such challenging people can have on the lives of others, within and outside global organisations, especially when they innately prefer competition and conflict to teamwork and co-operation.

Despite the problems such people create throughout society from impaired relationships and damaged reputations to business failures, chaos and even wars, perhaps throughout history being troublemakers not peacemakers, the concept of personality disorders needs to become more widely appreciated to better understand “difficult” people and their initially bizarre, but in due course entirely predictable behaviour, to sufficiently realise that their motivations differ from those of most “normal” people.

One of the first steps is to identify these abnormal people, by way of their own behaviour, as being different from the norm, then ADAPTING to respond to their sometimes extraordinary actions and reactions, given their inflexibility and probable inability to alter these themselves, described as being “maladaptive”, hence learning how to behave differently towards them (“denying narcissistic supply”), with a view to minimising the damage and perhaps havoc they will inevitably create, especially when they lead our organisations and even nations.

Until intimidatory traits, erroneously believed to be necessary rather than inappropriate implements in the toolkit of respected leaders, become associated with disordered management and leadership, this (avoidable) scenario may be perpetuated to the detriment of interpersonal trust and the reputation of the entities who appointed them before they may subsequently be given sufficient reason to doubt their own sanity for doing so.

The innate priority of such disordered people can be simply described as

To them, lacking concern for anything, but themselves, such matters are inconsequential and mere collateral damage en route to satisfying their insatiable personal goals.

While many people can behave in a selfish, difficult, proud and contrary manner occasionally, especially under extreme pressure, to be classified as a “Personality Disorder” the (often quite recognisable) traits need to be:

A group intimidated into only doing what the dominant and perhaps narcissistic leader wants is unlikely to evolve, especially when “getting their own way” is very important to their leader.

If people are afraid to “speak up” and uninspired to suggest a variety of alternative ideas or courses of action, how likely is more visionary progress?

At the end of the day disordered leaders demotivate and discourage people from producing their best.

While many people “succeed” by developing people and building trusting relationships, others seem to thrive at damaging relationships and destroying trust, both perhaps inconsequential to them with their primary focus being innately on themselves.

Flourishing levels of self-respect are important for everyone to function well in life and society, but what might be the difference between healthy and unhealthy levels? Could it be how they like to make other people feel? Confident, respected, assured, secure, satisfied, encouraged and inspired to produce their best, or tentative, lacking in confidence, disrespected, insecure, dissatisfied, discouraged, perhaps even belittled, nervous, hesitant and doubting their own ability, if not sanity.

Narcissists pervade society and often prevail in business where the rewards for their self-centred, often devious and sometimes intimidatory and ruthless behaviour, featuring a callous disregard for the opinions, interests and feelings of others and the impact of their decisions and actions on other people, are potentially far greater than in any other walk of life.

They demand respect but deny it to others, require and seek praise but dislike being encouraging, are constantly critical but overreact to anything they perceive to be criticism.

They damage trust when they seek to assassinate the character of those they believe to be opponents, often quite falsely.

Remedial action will inevitably be required arising from Destructive Leadership before it is too late and the damage they inflict becomes irreparable, evidenced by the names of now defunct corporations in global business graveyards as well as other organisations and even nations which also no longer exist.

Yet we continue to elect challenging people to senior roles because we erroneously mistake charm, arrogance, vindictiveness, humiliation and other ruthless traits for “leadership ability”, rather than a fundamental CHARACTER FLAW and probable indications of a PERSONALITY DISORDER, widespread  ignorance of which could make this perhaps one of global society’s best kept secrets.

Those lacking a sense of wrong must have something wrong with them.

Even after their organisation has collapsed,with many people’s lives adversely affected, these ruth-less and emotionally labile individuals, because that is what they are, not team-players, still cannot see that they did anything wrong.

Appreciating that their mind may in fact be disordered could be an important first step on the road to progress, which otherwise may be a frustratingly fruitless exercise.

Any attempts at trying to deal with them “normally” may well be doomed to failure.

Fortunately their maladaptive nature makes them very predictable, making such “selfish, difficult, proud, perverse, contrary, disagreeable,  cold and callous” people far easier to identify and deny them the positions of power they will inevitably abuse.

The most responsible people across society need to better learn how to to appreciate the behaviour associated with a disordered personality, then themselves adapt their own behaviour to diminish the harm such people can do, with “emotional impunity”, to people, relationships, businesses, other organisations and even our nations. 

Until this happens, one of the primary goals of my research and writing, we will continue to trust and appoint those whom psychiatrists and psychologists describe as “consistently irresponsible”, “interpersonally callous”, “emotionally immature” and “deeply untrustworthy”, to positions of responsibility across global society.

As far as leadership is concerned, all the intelligence in the world may be of no real value, if little or none of it is emotional.

Prevention is infinitely better than the improbability of cure.

Julian M Clarke 2022






Extract from Malignant Self Love : Narcissism Revisited

by Prof Sam Vaknin PhD

Narcissus Publications Imprint Prague & Skopje 2007 ISBN: 9989-929-06-8


FOREWARD by Ken Heilbrunn, M.D. Your role model, initially, who transpires to be your worst nightmare

Hello. Recognise me? No? Well, you see me all the time. You read my books, watch me on the big screen, feast on my art, cheer at my games, use my inventions, vote me into office, follow me into battle, take notes at my lectures, laugh at my jokes, marvel at my successes, admire my appearance, listen to my stories, discuss my politics, enjoy my music, excuse my faults, envy me my blessings. No?

Perhaps our paths crossed more privately. Perhaps I am the one who came along and built you up when you were down, employed you when you needed a job, showed the way when you were lost, offered confidence when you were doubting, made you laugh when you were blue, sparked your interest when you were bored, listened to you and understood, saw you for what you really are, felt your pain and found the answers, made you want to be alive.

But I can also be your worst nightmare.

I lie to your face, without a twitch or a twitter, and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. In fact, my lies are not lies at all. They are the truth, my truth.

Run to our friends. Go. See what that will get you. Ridicule.

Could it be that you were wrong about me in the beginning? So wrong as that? How do you think our friends will react if you insist that they are also wrong about me? After all, they know that it really is you who have thwarted my progress, tainted my reputation, and thrown me off course.

I disappoint you? Outrageous! It is you who have disappointed me. Look at all he frustrations you cause me. Lucky for you, I have an escape from all this, and fortunately my reputation provides enough insulation from the outside world so I can indulge in this escape with impunity. What escape? Why, those eruptions of rage you dread and fear. Ah, it feels so good to rage. It is the expression of and the confirmation of my power over you, my absolute superiority.

Go ahead. Tell our friends about it. See if they can imagine what it’s like, let alone believe it. The more outrageous the things you say about me, the more convinced they are that it is you who have taken a turn for the worse.

But you know what? This may come as a shock, but I can also be my own worst nightmare. I can and I am. You see, at heart my life is nothing more than illusion-clad confusion.

Fortunately my real attributes and accomplishments are in sufficient abundance to fuel my illusions seemingly forever.

So, not to worry if you still do not recognise me. I don’t recognise me either.

Then again, the universe or my universe? As long as the magic of my illusions works on me too, there really is no need for distinction. All I need is an abundant fan club to stay on top of it all. So I am constantly taking fan club inventory, testing the loyalty of present members with challenges of abuse, writing off defectors with total indifference, and scouting the landscape for new recruits.

Do you see my dilemma?

On some level I am aware of my illusions, but to admit that would spoil the magic. And that I couldn’t bear. So I proclaim that what I do is of no consequence and no different from what others do, and thus I create an illusion about my creating illusions. So, no, I don’t recognise me any better than you do. I wouldn’t dare.

But I am different and we both know it, although neither one of us dares to admit it.

That is the key to understanding me. Most people strive for goals and feel good when they approach them. They move toward something positive.

Not so for me. I move in the same direction but my movement is not toward something positive but away from something negative, something unreal.

Can you tell the difference between the real thing and me, between people who genuinely enjoy celebrating themselves and someone like me who merely pretends to? Usually not.

If by chance you are witness to one of my inexplicable Jeckyll-and-Hyde personality changes, you might suspect that something is amiss. But you quickly pass it off as an exception to the rule, for I am quick to revert to “normal”.

Where did it come from, this negativity?

What you were experiencing through your little mishaps and mistakes were small doses of shame. What you were learning from your quick recoveries was shame repair. At first your mother did most of the repairing. Through repetition, you gradually learned how to do it by yourself.

Instead I acquired something else: a sense of needlessness. That’s right, needlessness. Since Mother wouldn’t help me where I needed it most, I learned to pretend that I did not need her. I became tough, self-assured, a know-it-all, a do-it-all, an achiever, a leader.

Naturally, I tried this out on the rest of the world, and it worked again. All I needed to do was show others that I did not need them. How? By pretending, of course.

And they played along, perfectly, with all the affirmations needed to sustain the show.

For most people, to need others is normal, an accepted part of who they are, of being human.

How many others like me are there? More than you might think, and our numbers are increasing.

It is simply not possible for such an aberration of human cognition and behaviour to infiltrate and infect the population in such numbers and such similarity, virtually undetected by the radar of mental health professionals.

But it is.

Read his book. Take your seat at the double-headed microscope and let Sam guide you through the dissection. Like a brain surgeon operating on himself, Sam explores and exposes the alien among us, hoping beyond hope for a resectable tumour but finding instead each and every cell teeming with the same resistant virus. The operation is long and tedious, and at times frightening and hard to believe. Read on. The parts exposed are as they are, despite what may seem hyperbolic or farfetched. Their validity might not hit home until later, when coupled with memories of past events and experiences.

I am, as I said, my own worst nightmare. True, the world is replete with my contributions, and I am lots of fun to be around.

Ken Heilbrunn, M.D.

Extracted from

Malignant Self Love : Narcissism Revisited

by Prof Sam Vaknin PhD

Narcissus Publications Imprint Prague & Skopje 2007 ISBN: 9989-929-06-8