For those of us who are relatively “normal” in our political and intellectual views, understanding the differences between self-esteem and narcissism is not all that difficult. It is important to remember though that there are certain personality styles that are considered to be not only healthy, but also desirable, among certain groups of people. Those who enjoy the “calm, reflective” persona, are typically considered to be more self-reliant. Whereas those with narcissistic traits value the sense of being “loaded with value,” and feel that their ability to control their environment and others trumps their self-evaluation of their own abilities.
For those who embrace left-wing authoritarianism, self-esteem often plays a secondary role in their social dominance and ego satisfaction. However, there is also a significant amount of difference between self-esteem and narcissism in the way that these values impact those who are more economically vulnerable. Those with a high degree of social dominance are almost always those who endorse the social dominance model – they are the authoritarian leader who enforces the social norm against the objections of the ruled.
In narcissistic cases, however, the self-esteem focus is almost always on the self. The overriding importance of this is to ensure that the self is inflated beyond recognition in order to give the leader a larger ego. In narcissistic leadership, all attention is directed at the self, including criticism, rejection and delegating duties. narcissists do not give any importance to the relationships of those who are under their rule – and indeed, this can be very dangerous to the democratic norms that these leaders profess to support.
As a generalization, I would say that those who are in charge almost always have inflated self-esteem. This also tends to affect the relationship between the leader and the ruled. Those who are ruled are likely to be less confident than those who aren’t. Because of the self-evaluation, there is a constant anxiety about the effect of criticism on the value of the self, even when it doesn’t happen.
So in the case of narcissists, the concern about being seen as a “good leader” is a normal and even beneficial aspect of their self-image. They are driven to always be better than everyone else – and they don’t care what others think of them. In contrast, people with low self-esteem or a lack of social skills will usually worry whether they are making a mistake by doing something that will damage their standing in the eyes of others – and then try to rectify the situation as much as possible. It is this “situational anxiety” that causes problems with the democratic society structure, since those with such low self-esteem are not able to see the relationships between themselves and those who are in power as being advantageous to them.
But if we look at self-esteem from a different perspective – that of a leader – then the picture becomes very different. Self-esteem, in the form of a strong sense of self worth, is very important for a leader. It is not only important for attaining power; it is also a fundamental requirement for leading and motivating a team. When you have high self-esteem, you treat other people and yourself with respect. You enjoy what you do and enjoy being a part of a group, and you view criticism as a positive step forward rather than a potential setback.
Now if we were to compare the traits we associate with narcissism and self-esteem, we would find some striking similarities. The main difference is that narcissists are more concerned with having an audience than building up any sort of leadership skills. They believe they are better than everyone and feel that they can perform magic for other people. Whereas leaders on the other hand value respect and self-worth, and regard their followers as integral to their success, and who derive their power from them. Leaders who are successful have learned to build themselves up and help others do the same. They realise the importance of building up their own self-esteem.
If we are to find the answer as to why self-esteem is more important in leadership than narcissism, we would have to take into account the importance of building up self-esteem in an organization. The whole point about having the capacity to attract and hold a good team is related to building and maintaining positive relationships with those we work with. In essence we are looking at building and maintaining a successful leadership culture where all leaders feel that they are valued. Self-esteem is important in this type of environment.