Different Personalities at Work: Productive Narcissism

Elon Musk wants to send mankind to Mars. The entrepreneur has different visions of the future. Still, the fact he is possessed by enough self-belief to pull off world-changing feats has earned them a spot in a category of self-centered CEOs, who were first noticed by an anthropologist back at the height of the dot-com bubble. The academic calls them productive narcissists, and he thinks there may be more of them today.

Chief executives are hardly known for being reserved or self-doubting. However, there is something “new and daring” about some of the modern CEOs, said Michael Maccoby, an anthropologist and psychoanalyst who first wrote about this new type of leadership in an article for the Harvard Business Review more than a decade ago.

Called “Narcissistic Leaders: The Incredible Pros, the Inevitable Cons,” the article noted that corporate chiefs like Apple’s deceased CEO Steve Jobs, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates were “transforming” industries with their ability to be “gifted and creative strategists who see the big picture and find meaning in the risky challenge of changing the world and leaving behind a legacy.”