Saturday, March 03, 2007
Narcissists in the Workforce - Is That So Bad?


This past week, the Seattle-PI ran an article about the self-absorbed trend of Generation Y / Generation Next / Generation Me:

Twenge, the author of "Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled -- and More Miserable Than Ever Before," said narcissists tend to lack empathy, react aggressively to criticism and favor self-promotion over helping others.

The researchers traced the phenomenon back to what they called the "self-esteem movement" that emerged in the 1980s, asserting that the effort to build self-confidence had gone too far.

(Source: Think you're 'special'? That's not necessarily a good thing )

Twenge's website is Generation Me and it has an excerpt from the book.

Reading this article makes me think of two things: The Sibling Society written by Robert Bly and Bob Kegan's levels of self (yeah, there I go on Kegan again).

One point Bly makes in The Sibling Society is that maturity is being spread out to take longer and longer in our advanced, civilized society. People continue to engage in adolescent behavior well into their thirties (like playing video games and indulging in what feels good) and don't seem to toughen up. Additionally, it is their peers they look to for support and acceptance, not their elders.

Kegan talks about how teenagers are at the Imperial Stage and basically amoral and anything that gets them what they want is just fine by them. They are elevated to the next level of self, the Interpersonal Stage, when they adopt empathy and can recognize how self-focused they've been in the past and inconsiderate towards others.

So, delayed emotional growth in our society results in delayed advancement through the levels of self, resulting in - perhaps - amoral self-centered individuals interacting in the corporation in a large way that society hasn't seen before.

My interaction with Gen Y so far has been more along the lines of "Whoa! Hold on there, Tex! You do not understand what it takes to ship world class software. You still need mentoring and just plain do not know everything yet."

And you know, that's not so bad. I'd rather be reigning in a firebrand of a self-motivated, highly confident individual and directing their growth than to deal with the alternative of a mopey, unsure, low-confident individual that self-doubts their every move, even though they have the talent to perform. You just have to ensure everyone on the team has an understanding of the person's motivation.

Confidence is great. Linking their own achievement with the product's success provides clarity around contribution. Well, that's one small part of the management plan.

We'll see how it goes in the years ahead. Gen Y has been raised with extreme parental attention that directed growth in strong individual confidence. Perhaps too much parental involvement. At least I haven't had any parents call me up regarding their son / daughter's review score and requesting time on my calendar to chat about it.

Fingers crossed.

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