Cutting-Edge Leadership

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Do You Know Someone With I-Can-Never-Be-Wrong Syndrome?

Why leaders and lovers often fail.

This post is about the narcissism and arrogance of leaders—leaders who believe they are always right, even when they are shown wrong. I’ve worked for leaders with I-Can-Never-Be-Wrong (ICNBW) syndrome, and although some of them were successful, they were difficult people to work with.

While self-confidence is important for good leadership, too much confidence can lead to a narcissistic belief that the leader is never wrong, and that becomes problematic. We know that leaders learn more from their mistakes than their successes, so the problem with ICNBW syndrome, besides not owning up to the truth, is an ability to learn and the stubborn adherence to failed or failing policies.

I’ve encountered non-leaders with ICNBW syndrome, too. For example, the sales clerk at the computer repair window who refused to honor my service contract, and even when she called the manager and he insisted that I didn’t have to pay because of the contract, she huffed off saying, “You’re both wrong!”

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As in leadership, ICNBW syndrome can also doom relationships. It is impossible to develop a good and equitable relationship when one party is always right and the other is always wrong. As in the leadership relationship, stubborn refusal to admit fault or shortcomings leads to resentment in the other party(ies), and such one-sided relationships of all kinds (leadership is ultimately a relationship) are doomed to fail.

  More on narcissism and bad leadership here.

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Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., is the Henry R. Kravis Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont McKenna College.

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