To what extent is insanity correlated to specific aspects of Leadership?
by Maria Katsarou, Managing Partner, Our World Group
Do you believe that it’s possible to have a Leader without a touch of weirdness, or even madness? I read all the ‘criticism’ on Steve Jobs style not that he is gone and how eccentric he was, how weird he was with his people… and I am wondering, would he be the genius he was without all this? I believe not. Plato said it first: We all have a degree of madness that can serve our creativity. It’s the area in leadership that intrigues me the most and in my quest to find answers I came across the research of Dr Nassir Ghaemi.
In a nutshell he argues that insanity goes hand with leadership and in fact under certain circumstances insanity can have better results than sanity Or in other words, in turbulent times, mentally ill or mentally abnormal leaders have what it takes to deal with a crisis. He examined the lives and family history of numerous world leaders like Churchill, Chamberlain, Gandhi, John F. Kennedy, Hitler, Tony Blair, George W. Bush, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Richard Nixon, and others.
Now I know that some of you may say, well ‘’Hitler was not a leader’’ and my response to you is “let’s not confuse the process of leadership and values or ethics, because these are two different things. Hitler WAS a leader, he had Followers and there was a specific Context (social, economical, history, etc) that made his era possible.
So, now that we have cleared that important distinction let’s take a look at Dr Ghaemi’s research with a specific example: Take realism, for instance: study after study has shown that those suffering depression are better than “normal” people at assessing current threats and predicting future outcomes. Looking at Lincoln and Churchill among others, Dr Ghaemi shows how depressive realism helped these men tackle challenges both personal and national. Or consider creativity, a quality psychiatrists have studied extensively in relation to bipolar disorder.
Though sane people are better shepherds in good times, sanity can be a severe liability in moments of crisis.
A lifetime without the cyclical torment of mood disorders, Dr Ghaemi explains, can leave one ill equipped to endure dire straits. He also clarifies which kinds of insanity— like psychosis—make for despotism and ineptitude, sometimes on a grand scale. Dr Ghaemi’s bold, authoritative analysis offers powerful new tools for determining who should lead us. But perhaps most profoundly, he encourages us to rethink our view of mental illness as a purely negative phenomenon. As he makes clear, the most common types of insanity can confer vital benefits on individuals and society at large—however high the price for those who endure these illnesses.