Bono, Megalomania and Achieving Success

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If you have an iTunes account, you automatically received a free download of U2’s new album last month. This was intended to be a nice gesture from Apple that would provide free promotion for the band and generate additional excitement around the new iPhones. Instead, there was a backlash from iTune subscribers who saw this as a violation of their privacy and musical taste. Bono, U2’s lead singer, addressed this in a recent interview:

Oops. I’m sorry about that. I had this beautiful idea — might have got carried away with it ourselves. Artists are prone to that kind of thing. A drop of megalomania, a touch of generosity, a dash of self-promotion and deep fear that these songs that we’d poured our life into over the last few years mightn’t be heard. There’s a lot of noise out there. I guess we got a little noisy ourselves to get through it.

It’s interesting that he apologetically mentions “a drop of megalomania.” Megalomania is defined as delusions of grandeur in which one believes oneself to be a person of great importance, power, fame, or wealth. With Bono, I don’t consider him to have delusions of grandeur – he’s a key member of one of the most successful rock bands ever and a prominent voice in international philanthropy. For the rest of us, maybe we could use a drop of megalomania.

Megalomaniacal leaders are often portrayed as the villain. They are typically characterized as domineering with a sense of entitlement, grandiosity, and low empathy. This can be true, but does it disqualify them from being effective in their role?

Research shows that CEOs prone to megalomania are more likely to be seen as inspirational and persuasive, tend to succeed in situations that call for change, and are more likely to adopt disruptive technology, leading to greater innovation and creativity. On the negative side, they underperform during tough economic times, take excessive risks, violate ethical standards, and have unengaged staff. So, with these competing views, do you want to be a megalomaniac or not? The answer is kinda.

A new study has found that while megalomaniacs are more likely to attain leadership positions, there is no direct relationship with success. Leaders with either extremely high or extremely low levels of megalomania were shown to be poorer leaders. According to Emily Grijalva, the lead author of the study,

With too little, a leader can be viewed as insecure or hesitant, but if you’re too high on narcissism, you can be exploitative or tyrannical.

The most successful leaders maintain a moderate level of megalomania. Peter Harms, co-author of the study, says these individuals achieve…

…a nice balance between having sufficient levels of self-confidence, but do not manifest the negative, antisocial aspects of narcissism that involve putting others down to feel good about themselves.

Find your balance. There’s no need to be a full-blown narcissist – avoid the elevated sense of self-worth that will lead you to thinking you are better than others. At the same time, don’t overcompensate so much that you appear timid or weak-willed. Maintain a healthy degree of self-confidence to show you know what you’re doing and respect those with whom you work. There’s no better way to “rattle and hum” towards success.

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