Monday, May 2, 2011

Bin Laden and What He Teaches About Destructive Narcissistic Leadership and Personality Disorders

Hanging the American flag outside the homestead was among the first things that the Disease Management Care Blog did this morning. It was the least it could do to express its appreciation to the brave men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces for bringing Bin Laden to justice.

And what of Al Qaeda and its dwindling ability to continue to threaten the Homeland?  It was enough to make the DMCB fire up its remote armchair psychology and think about what happens to organizations when there has been loss of a leader.

First off, while some aspects of terrorism may partly have a modifiable social and psychological basis, let's face it: Bin Laden's murderous fanaticism was the reprise of a very malignant narcissistic personality disorder utterly lacking in any conscience or empathy.  The DMCB is still mystified by the ability of such individuals to corrupt others into becoming evil.  If anything, however, our unhappy experience with folks like Hitler, Pol Pot, and Milosevic tells it that it shouldn't be surprised. Once again, savvy political persuasiveness and demagoguery mixed with our affinity for simple explanations, externalizing blame, reductionism and absolutism - and it produced a monster.

Studies of leadership in other types of organizations teaches us that narcissism is quite common.  Leadership theories abound, yet the DMCB also knows that while narcissistic leaders are highly effective, truly transformative and inspirational leadership (think Gandhi or Reverend King) draws on openness and relationships in pursuit of a higher purpose that extends beyond any single person's lifetime.  That's one of the ingredients can make the difference between an independent India and successful civil rights legislation versus failed states and the legacy of the murder of innocents.

As a result, DMCB thinks the loss of Bin Laden's psychopathy will accelerate Al Qaeda's depletion.  The bad news is that there is no shortage of malignant narcissism or its victims. Persons without capacity for guilt or shame will adopt Bin Laden's playbook.

Last but not least, did you know that Al Jazeera has a live English stream?  The DMCB learned about it during the turmoil in Egypt.  The reporting is not only first rate, it seems to be surprisingly balanced.

(Addendum: CNN's Fareed Zakaria agrees that BL's loss will lead to the eventual end of Al Qaeda)

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