Developmental Narcisscim

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In the arena of leadership development and training, there is a subtle trap that one can all too easily fall into. It is the dark side of something very good. I have grown to call it “developmental narcissism.”

Developmental narcissism is when some wonderful concepts get twisted ever so slightly so that the focus becomes inordinately self-centered. It’s all about me …my fulfillment, my calling, my purpose, my ultimate contribution, my life plan, my role, my gifts, natural abilities and acquired skills, my values, my vision, my ministry, my, my, my….

The wheels come off of healthy leadership development and it morphs into developmental narcissism when:

One forgets that never in all of redemptive history does God raise up a leader for the leader’s sake . It’s always for the sake of God’s people.

One fails to realize that leadership is an entrusted commodity. Those who have it are only stewards of a God-given responsibility.

One mutes Luke 9:23 and the fact that the cross is still a cross.


Developmental narcissism means that a healthy developmental mindset and self-care are hijacked and subtly used to justify selfishness and self-absorption. It is a spiritualized form of individualism. I’ve heard it from the lips of leaders I have respected and it sounds something like:
“I need to make this decision, leave this role, turn down this responsibility, take this job that pays better, etc… because I have to be true to myself. If I am going to accomplish my calling, I have to do this. I come first.”

While it may be hard to admit, developmental narcissism is all about the world rotating around me.

7 Responses to “Developmental Narcisscim”

  1. Wes Roberts Says:

    ...excellent post, Sam

    ...thanx

    ...may I have permission to use this, with due credit of course (my choice in asking…)?

    ...next time you are through Denver, I would welcome taking you to dinner

    ...I’ve some time scheduled with Hugh this AM, and will be hearing some more about your joint travels

    ...blessings on you and your bride, wherever you are!

  2. Sam Says:

    Wes:

    Please use as you would like.

    Would be delighted to get together with you the next time I’m in Denver which may be sometime this fall. Have a good time with Hugh …he did a very good job in Lebanon.

  3. Christiana Rice Says:

    Thank you for writing this, Sam. I think we younger leaders need to hear this in the beginning stages of our development so that we avoid the pit falls of “developmental narcissism” in future ministry ventures.
    I needed to hear this today.

    -C

  4. Mike Says:

    Sam,
    Touché. Excellent and timely. A LOT of self actualization going on and not Kingdom priorities in decision making and focus.

  5. sean daly Says:

    hey Sam .. guess it’s the subtle paradox of the kingdom once again. It is about us, but it’s not. To despise who we are dishonours the reality that we are created in His image; to be totally self-absorbed elevates us to iconic status. Yet there remains something of a false humility when we insist on saying ‘it’s not at all about me; it’s all about Him’. Thanks for reminding us of the delicate balance of being crucial but not the primary focus.
    Sean Daly

  6. Sam Says:

    Sean:

    Thanks for the observation. Nice to hear from you. You touched on the obvious paradox in this issue, how to reconcile, in the greater sense, the imago dei with the lordship of Jesus. It certainly is a “both and” and not an “either or.”

  7. Rob Yackley Says:

    I just posted an article, “it’s not all about me”, on my blog page that ironically echoes your words and that was posted before I read this. I like the subtle but significant distinction between Sean’s words and mine; there is a big difference between “it’s all about me” and “it’s not at all about me.” Some of it is about me. Just not all of it. And certainly not the biggest part.

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