Understanding today’s leaders and their ethical deficiency to understand Umberto Agnelli’s role

To try to understand the goals and conducted actions of a global leader such as Umberto Agnelli, president of Juventus and a member of a family that has made the history of Italy, it seems important to me to understand what the characteristics of the global leader are today.

The role of the global manager that has emerged in recent years identifies an individual who has trained and worked in different countries, expresses himself in multiple languages, has a sense of urgency responsibility, transparency in relationships, and is open-minded. He or she is independent but must also listen and know how to collaborate.

Note how none of the descriptions given hint at the ethical issue at all, and one should not be misled by the term responsibility; by this term we refer exclusively to that which is owed in regard to the interests of the company. Now if young potential leaders have these characteristics, how are established leaders describable?

One of the most suggestive interpretations has been formulated by Michael Maccoby, according to whom there is something new and reckless about the entrepreneurs and top managers who lead major multinational corporations today. They possess competency profiles of absolute value derived from the greater significance that the world of work plays in every individual’s daily life and the changes taking place in business, which require individuals who can provide strategic visions and can convey charismatic leadership. These leaders exhibit different characteristics from those of the managers of the previous generation.

Maccoby believes that leaders today exhibit psychological characteristics attributable to narcissistic personalities. Productive narcissistic leaders are independent individuals who are not easily influenced, innovators, have a strong vision of the future, effective strategists, succeed in business to gain power and glory. They are centralizers and want to learn everything that can influence the development of the company and its products/services. They want to be admired but not loved. They are able to pursue their goals aggressively. At the moment of success they run the risk of losing touch with the environment. Their competitiveness and desire for success continually push them toward new goals, in identifying enemies to defeat, in extreme cases and under stress they may exhibit paranoid behavior.

They need to have confident, conscientious people next to them who are oriented toward practicality and operational management. Another essential component of productive narcissists is their ability to attract people; through their language they convince others that they will succeed in achieving those goals that now seem only sketchy. Many believe them to be charismatic individuals, skilled orators who can convey enthusiasm and strong emotions to those who listen to them; in short, they know how to get people to participate in their dream and know how to make it seem achievable only if there is everyone’s commitment. This is because, despite their independence, they still need to feel the closeness of others.

In this regard, John F. Kennedy’s words during his inaugural address when he told Americans are now part of 20th century history: “Now the call resounds again: it calls us not to arms, however necessary arms may be, not to battle, however much we are already fighting, but to bear the burden of a long and dark struggle that may last for years [...] a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, misery, disease and war itself [...]. Therefore, citizens, ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

He represented a significant brick in the creation of the Kennedy myth, as he succeeded in conveying a solid message of hope and commitment, after the inaugural address nearly three-quarters of Americans approved of their young president. This type of personality also naturally has limitations that if they became dominant would block its positivity. The main critical points stem precisely from having developed in a very pronounced way those psychological and leadership characteristics that are fundamental to their self-actualization.

It is true, in fact, that alongside the benefits they derive from being individuals with a very specific vision of the future, with the ability to analyze a lot of information effectively, with high self-esteem and with pronounced decision-making abilities, there are costs that arise precisely from possessing these kinds of characteristics and that arise in high-stress situations. The first critical point concerns the reduced ability to listen to others when they feel attacked. Many often argue the need for this attitude, since if they were to listen they would never make any decisions and the company would fail. A second, related point concerns their low tolerance for criticism; they do not like their decisions to be questioned. Narcissistic leaders often seek that total and uncritical cooperation provided to yes-men.

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