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Narcissism — The Black Lung of Thought Leaders

Every occupation has specific ailments or diseases that are directly connected to people that work in those industries. For years coal miners had to cope with black lung, mercury poisoning lead to the phrase “mad as a hatter,” and even today data entry clerks may be at risk for carpal tunnel syndrome. Now, most people never consider being a speaker or author as a field with any significant health risk, but that’s not quite true.

Many quality authors, speakers, and thought leaders have succumbed to ailments of narcissism. Certainly, some were, shall we say, pre-disposed to this condition. However, take care not to fall prey to this crippling disposition as it is harmful to you, your business, your clients, and quite frankly everyone that interacts with you; a second hand smoke of sorts waiting to choke out everyone around you.

So why do so many incredibly talented and intelligent folks at the top of their game suddenly come down with these egocentric and delusional symptoms?

Well, think about it this way: most people don’t go to work on a stage where everyone is there to listen to everything they have to say. Most people are not the center of attention everywhere they go and most don’t spend their days signing books, PowerPoints, or client deliverables as audience members line up for the opportunity to shake their hand. We don’t have the privilege or honor of working with some of the world’s most renowned companies, get invited to exclusive parties, or the coolest conferences.

So how can today’s thought leader inoculate himself or herself against this incredibly obnoxious disease? Here’s a few reminders:

1) You are there to serve your client

It’s not about you. This opportunity is an honor and privilege, and your focus and obligation should always be on them.

2) Don’t get lazy

Delivering the same speech in the exact same way every time to every audience is unacceptable. Find ways to bring your work to life to every audience, every time. Sure, you can rely on your experience but don’t phone it in. It requires constant effort and thoughtfulness.

3) Be humble and approachable

A high maintenance speaker is not fun to work with. Be generous with your time, be approachable, and don’t drink too much of your own Kool-Aid. You’re good and you’re smart, we get it, but you are also benefiting from at least a bit of good luck.

4) Be grateful

There is little more rewarding than being at the top of your game, able to make a (very comfortable) living doing what you are great at. Always be grateful for your career opportunities; that little bit of gratitude goes a long way.

So until the industry becomes heavily regulated, or OSHA steps in and starts to monitor each and every thought leader who is at risk, the responsibility is on you to fight against narcissism and to be an authentic, grateful, and hard working thought leader.

Peter Winick has deep expertise in helping those with deep expertise. He is the CEO of Thought Leadership Leverage. Visit Peter on Twitter!

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. This is a good and important article, Peter, but could be much stronger with some real life examples, both positive and negative. You are trying to be too politic here and name no names and cite no incidents. It would be far better with some legendary and real life anecdotes.

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