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March 13, 2006
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 The H.R. Doctor Is In

National Narcissism

The character from Greek mythology Narcissus, who saw his own reflection in a pool of calm waters and fell in love with himself, has given rise to the syndrome known as narcissism. It means excessive love of self and being excessively self-centered.

Narcissus’ prime focus at work or in his private life was on self-enrichment. "What’s in it for me?" is his most popular utterance. Narcissus obviously didn’t work for an organization that had an Employee Assistance Program.

Unfortunately, many professionals, especially persons just beginning their careers - or trying to begin their careers - stumble over the same problem that afflicted Narcissus. When asked to accept a new assignment, they think first about whether it will be convenient or whether it will get them a raise, a new title or a new office.

This reaction to the request stands opposed to a professional curiosity and desire to get involved in new efforts and challenges. Questions about how they can make the assignment successful, how they can learn and grow from the experience and how their work will benefit the organization and other people replaces the me-centered approaches.

Narcissus and his friends suffer from trying to play on a teeter-totter with only one person: They only weigh down the playground equipment. Narcissism leads to the kind of reputation unlikely to persuade an organization to invest in that person as opposed to another candidate when it comes to promotion or an opportunity for a career breakthrough.

Of course, everyone is self-concerned or self-oriented to a degree. No one, including our friend Narcissus, is all at one end or the other of the spectrum - between a self-centered orientation to life and being totally in the Mother Teresa camp. We all live on a balance beam and move the focus back and forth based on circumstances, age, environment and other factors.

The point to be made is that the best staff members to have around are those who have a very clear sense of their personal strengths and capabilities, but stop short of being trampled on by their own ego excess.

The HR Doctor has previously suggested a procedure called an "ego-suction" in which part of a person’s excessive ego is surgically removed. More can be read about this medical breakthrough in the HR Doctor’s book, Don’t Walk by Something Wrong!

Sometimes the more perceived power a person holds by virtue of rank or office, the more they tend to display the symptoms that would make an ego-suction procedure appropriate. These symptoms include an inflated sense of self-worth, arrogance and an unwillingness to listen or consider the opinions or views of others.

Unfortunately, this afflicted group includes some of our elected officials. On the other hand, this has to be kept in perspective. America has well over 500,000 elected officials. Only a small, but thoroughly obnoxious, minority display the need for ego-suction.

The large majority of elected officials, and that means literally thousands over the years that the HR Doctor has worked with, are very caring and giving people. They have become successful in their business and public service, as well as in their family relationships because they are more other-oriented than they are self-centered.

It may seem paradoxical, but the more you focus on the welfare of others, the more enriched you will find yourself. The reader may correctly regard the last sentence in this article as merely a rewrite of the ancient and true wisdom of its being better to give than to receive. For the singers among you, here’s another variation drawn from the wonderful Shaker hymn "Simple Gifts."

’Tis the gift to be loving, ’tis the best gift of all

It’s like the quiet rain, it blesses where it falls

And those who have the gift soon learn to believe

That it’s better to give than it is to receive

At the national level, our huge bank of natural resources, scientific and economic prowess and history of meeting challenges has arguably crashed into a wall of whining and a national narcissism. America is perceived too widely, regrettably, as the land of self-indulgence and unilateralism. Some form of national therapy to overcome this perception would be wonderful gift for our country, and the world.

A modern Employee Assistance Program could offer Narcissus a great amount of help to see how he appears to others. However, for all of us mere mortals, I would recommend going back to the essence of that Shaker Hymn and putting ourselves, and for that matter, our country, on the balance beam so that the fulcrum is clearly on the other-oriented side.

Very best wishes,

Phil Rosenberg
The HR Doctor


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