Narcissistic Leadership is No Leadership

Narcissistic Leadership is No Leadership

There is a crisis of leadership today. I’m not just talking about politics, although that qualifies, too. I mean visible leadership at all levels, in all parts of life. To many, the people in leadership positions often look like self-serving narcissists. Whether it’s the politician who will say anything to get elected, the business executive deliberately cheating customers and partners, or the coach who ignores the rules to gain an advantage, the result is a vacuum of leadership.

We don’t trust our “leaders,” because they’re not really leading.

I believe that leadership starts with having the utmost concern for the people around you. As a business owner, that means concern for my customers, my prospects, my employees, my vendors, my business partners, and so on. A great leader puts the focus on other people rather than himself. Narcissistic leadership is no leadership at all.

Leadership has to be more than lording over subordinates from the center of power. Ivory towers never produce great leadership, no matter whether it’s the CEO of a Fortune 100 company or a small business owner on Main Street. If I’m not engaged with my world—however large or small it may be—and I start and end each day behind that closed door, I’m a really bad leader.

How can I make other people better? That’s what true leadership is about. How can we do greater things together? True leaders know they cannot do it all by themselves. As a leader, I have to lean on the experience and intelligence and ideas of all the people around me. But in order to do that, my door has to be open. I have to walk down the hall and talk to people. I have to ask them questions to think about how we can be more relevant. How can we be better? How can we solve more problems?

I know I’ve had a great run in my lifetime building businesses. But I can tell you I could not have built even one of them without the great people who work for me and the great partners I have had. I learned long ago that the only way partnerships work is if both parties bring something that makes the other better. Most partnership proposals that I see are one-sided: you do this for me and, hey, I hope it works out for you! That’s selfish leadership, only looking out for yourself and not caring about the other person. Those partnerships never work. The ones that last make everybody better off.

In every part of life, the best leaders—business owners, coaches, politicians, and any other leadership figure—care about other people. They make us feel like we can trust them. When they say something, it’s what they truly believe, and when they do something, it matches up with what they believe and what they’ve said they would do. If they make a mistake and are proven wrong down the road, it wasn’t because they acted disingenuously and deceptively. They genuinely, sincerely care about people, and as a result they are honest and transparent with others.

We need a rebirth of leadership, and it starts with you and me. I’m a leader in my business, and my job here is to bring everybody together, treat everybody with great respect, and build a team that can achieve more together. It’s not about me. It’s about us.

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Fran Tarkenton

Fran Tarkenton

Fran Tarkenton is an entrepreneur and NFL Hall of Famer, and the founder of and Tarkenton Companies. With a passion for small business, he’s started more than 20 businesses during and after his NFL career. Fran is a small business coach for entrepreneurs and business owners, providing advice and guidance through sites such as,, and more. He has written about business issues in the Wall Street Journal, U.S. New and World Report, and USA Today, along with regular appearances on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. You can follow Fran on Twitter @Fran_Tarkenton.