It’s not a problem when Survivor contestants are narcissists. Nobody’s going to live or die because Richard Hatch has an inflated view of himself. Actors are narcissists; reality-show participants, even more so.
Narcissistic CEOs are different. They surround themselves with sycophants. They spurn tell-it-like-it-is advisers. Instead of trying for incremental improvements, they make dramatic decisions in line with their showboat personas.
And their actions have consequences. Not only for their direct reports, but for shareholders, employees and others in their extended orbits. In the case of narcissists like Bernie Madoff, their behavior can shake up industries and governments, destroy trust within communities and drive followers to suicide.
Let’s create the CEO Narcissism Index. We’ll go on Edgar and troll through the annual reports. How big is the CEO’s footprint? How many times is his name mentioned? How many photos and how big are they? Take it even farther: Count the number of amendments to CEO employment agreements – as documented over the years by Michelle Leder over at footnoted.org – and add up the perks that the CEO has accumulated for himself. Weigh, mix and try to validate against CEOs who we KNOW are narcissists (Steve Jobs, anyone?). Then, of course, we test it against the stock price.
Yet another project for which there aren’t enough hours in the day.