Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The benefits of the Narcissist Generation

I was delighted with an article in the Boston Globe “The New Me Generation” which spoke directly to some of the joys and the challenges I have managing FirstRain.

The essence of the article was summarized by the WSJ:

"The narcissism of the younger rising generation in the work force might be the shot in the arm corporate America needs, even if it is annoying. In the Boston Globe, Jake Halpern (born in 1975) declares anyone born after 1970 to be a member of the Entitlement Generation, marked by self-absorption, arrogance, a low regard for formal dress codes and a high regard for its own opinions. A nation-wide survey using a standardized test called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory found that 24% of college students in 2006 showed elevated levels of narcissism compared to just 15% in the early 1990s.

However, narcissists have some advantages. Their confidence allows them to take risks others might balk at. As more companies depend on innovation to stay a step ahead of globalization, the Entitlement Generation is well-equipped to be push through bold ideas onto skeptical elders. However, since narcissists also rarely acknowledge that their wrong ideas are wrong, the trick for elders “is to identify the upstarts with the most potential” and only then, “despite whatever personal qualms we may have with them – allow them to run with their ideas.”

FirstRain is a new generation company, without a doubt and we are dealing with bleeding edge technology to solve problems for a mature, seasoned customer base in a rapidly, radically changing market.

By far the majority of my employees were born after 1970 and I'd guess more than 60% were born after 1975. Particularly in the departments with the majority of the headcount: engineering and sales. And we do have a strong contingent particularly in sales (and front line sales support) who exhibit the characteristics described by the Boston Globe article: narcissist and self confident.

As a CEO though I love those characteristics, and I am self aware enough to know that some of it is because I see myself in them (even though I was born in 1960). I was raised in England, a daughter of the British Raj and sent away to boarding school at 12 (the girl’s equivalent of Eton). There I was molded to be very self confident – but for a completely different purpose. I was in a transition generation. Modeled after the most famous boy’s schools, the school had been designed in the late 19th century to create empire builders, while the British Empire was still global. In 1972 we were still being trained in the same way - to be young women full of confidence who could take on any challenge. And I was one of the extreme non-conformers of my generation through the school (a much longer story).

Having confidence in yourself, taking risks and challenging authority are essential skills for entrepreneurs, for innovation (which requires risk as I posted recently) and for employees of young, growing companies. The only caveat is that the challenging behavior needs to be constructive and not political. I simply won’t tolerate any behavior that puts the needs of the individual ahead of the needs of the company; it must be company first - but beyond that there are no rules.

I encourage and reward my team members who make change happen. I believe strongly in promoting from within and taking a chance on bright, hungry rainmakers who demonstrate they can lead, take risks and get to great results. They make the company sing.

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