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V. Agree or disagree with the following statements.
1. The criminal always faces the music.
2. There are lots of aggressors among us.
3. An aggressive person can be easily pinpointed.
4. An aggressive person suffers from his own actions.
5. It’s impossible to resist aggression.
6. The criminal is sure to be cornered sooner or later.
7. There are criminals who always get off the hook.
8. Evil has a physical origin.
9. There is evil both inside and outside a person.
10. An incorrigible criminal will never change.
11. An assaulted person had better show no resistance.
12. Psychology can help to learn to monitor criminal behaviour.
VI. Sum up the main points of the article and say if you share the journalist’s stand.
VII. Points for discussion.
Is society or are people to blame for different misdemeanors and felonies? 2. How can people be made less aggressive?
OF CRIMINALS AND CEOS
The difference between bold, creative visionaries and deluded psychopaths is not as big as it used to be.
For a while, Brian Blackwell seemed to have it made. His girlfriend believed the cosseted only child from Liverpool was a professional tennis player, with a $125,000 Nike contract funding his jet-set lifestyle. He hired her as his private secretary and wrote her a check for $90,000. He bought her a $16,000 car, then purchased $22,500 worth of flights for them to New York, Miami, Barbados and San Francisco. When they returned, he spent the summer at her house. One day the police knocked on her door. Blackwell’s whole life, it turns out, was a lie. He had stolen $16,000 from a trust fund his parents had set up for his education and maxed out his father’s credit card. The $90,000 check bounced (he had sixteen cents in his account). The Nike contract never existed. And in June, Blackwell was sentenced to life in prison for killing his parents with a claw hammer and kitchen knife.
Psychiatrists from both defense and prosecution agreed that Blackwell posed a severe case of narcissistic personality disorder, or NPD, and he was convicted of manslaughter on grounds of diminished responsibility. Yet Blackwell, before spiraling into his delusional fantasies, was a straight-A student, well regarded by teachers and about to attend university to become, as his parents boasted, “not just a doctor – a surgeon.” In fact, while his case is extreme, researchers are finding that milder forms of NPD may afflict some of society’s most successful members. A recent study by Belinda Board and Katarina Fritzon of the University of Surrey in Britain found that successful business managers were as likely to show the traits associated with NPD – grandiosity, lack of empathy and exploitativeness – as samples of criminals and psychiatric patients. “A narcissist, who breaks new ground, can be the optimal, innovative business personality,” says Michael Maccoby, author of “The Productive Narcissist.”
Narcissists often make exceptional managers, galvanizing employees and making far-reaching changes. A narcissistic executive is the creative, superficially charming colleague who may be arrogant and manipulative but also charismatic and hard-charging, qualities that are increasingly valued in politics and business. They can be contrasted with obsessive managers, like Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, who kept a low profile and a modest lifestyle, or Gillette’s Colman Mockler, known for his calmness, courteousness and down-to-earth manner. In a six-year study of high achievers working on special projects in 20 large firms, management experts Bill Fischer and Andy Boyton found that firms are often eager to hire such brilliant thinkers, but fail to put their skills to good use. In the best of cases, though, managers like Southwest Airlines cofounder Herb Kelleher “smash the old economic rules and create an entirely new game with their own rules,” says Maccoby. “They use their corporations as vehicles for their own vision.”
That kind of success has much to do with the talent such leaders are able to attract. Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey and Steve Jobs are so charismatic and visionary that employees overlook he more difficult aspects of their narcissism; many of the best people are drawn to their firms to be part of something that is ambitious and meaningful. As Jack Welch wrote in his autobiography, he wanted to “change GE from one of the great companies to absolutely the greatest company in world business.” The most effective narcissistic CEOs are also self-aware enough to surround themselves with people whose complementary personalities act as a check on their own. (Kelleher, for instance, had Southwest president Collin Barrett, whose systematic attention to detail was the perfect foil for his idea-driven approach.)
The question of how to manage such super egos has recently become a hot-button issue in the boardroom. Narcissistic bosses may make bold leaders, but they can also let aggression and selfishness fester in the workplace, to the point where cruelty and deception are condoned. For each Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, there’s a Bernie Ebbers or a Dennis Kozlowski – and the line between visionary leader and loose cannon can be thin indeed. Many high achievers pursue wealth and status to compensate for a deeper sense of despair and worthlessness, and these unassimilated feelings get projected onto employees, who bear the brunt of a narcissistic manager’s abrasiveness, lack of empathy, even random acts of cruelty. “We certainly see some extreme characters, and by the time they’re referred here there is a problem,” Peoplewise, that advises businesses on organizational psychology. Many narcissistic managers don’t welcome criticism, and even soliciting advice or opinions can seem like a weakness. Bullying and other self-centered behavior can leave legions of employees “battered and bruised,” says Board.
As Blackwell’s case showed, a narcissist can segue into criminality almost imperceptibly, particularly in a culture that values self-promotion. Board recalls one manager at a big public company, Phil, who was referred to her after he had been discovered systematically lying about the profitability of his team. “Phil never believed he could be caught,” she says. “And the company couldn’t believe anything bad about him, until the evidence was overwhelming.” After five months of cognitive behavior therapy, Phil began to face up to what he had done, and learned ways of developing empathy with his colleagues.
As firms come to appreciate the creativity and vision of narcissistic managers, they’re learning more about how to spot signs that things are going awry. Narcissistic managers can transform a business. But the shadow of Brian Blackwell – or Enron, where narcissism was institutionalized – is a reminder that sometimes more sober heads need to prevail.
/Newsweek, Jan.14, 2005/
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