08/10/2013 08:30 BST | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

Ethics in Business - Where Is the Education for Narcissistic Leaders?

The former Chief Secretary to the Government of Malaysia (Cabinet Secretary), Tan Sri Mohd Sidek Hassan, wrote an article in 2011 on one of Thomas Hardy's most acclaimed novels titled - The Mayor of Casterbridge, "The Life and Death of a Man of Character" ( He related it to the issues of character in the making of a successful public sector.

The Mayor of Casterbridge tells the story of one Michael Henchard, who would sell his wife and daughter when in a state of total intoxication. Realising what he had done, Henchard would take an oath to remain sober for 21 years. He would rise to become the Mayor of Casterbridge (a town in Dorchester, Dorset, UK) in the ensuing years. Unbeknown to him, his past would haunt him at the pinnacle of his success when his wife and daughter would reappear. As with the many tales of rise and fall of leaders, Henchard would revert to his drinking habits. An inevitable fall from grace follows and he ultimately dies alone. Poignant in this tale is - beneath all the success perhaps the same man was there all along - only cloaked by his exterior achievements. His character was not refined even as his outward achievements did. Most notable in the novel is Henchard's heart rending will which reads as follows:

"That Elizabeth-Jane Farfrae be not told of my death, or made to grieve on account of me. "& that I be not bury'd in consecrated ground. "& that no sexton be asked to toll the bell. "& that nobody is wished to see my dead body. "& that no mourners walk behind me at my funeral. "& that no flowers be planted on my grave, "& that no man remember me. "To this I put my name.

At the heart of this tale is as Thomas Hardy would so eloquently present - "character is destiny". That destiny can be that of our countries, our organisations and businesses and our own. As we witness the rise and fall of once formidable world leaders - in politics and business - one wonders if behind the mirage of charisma and sound bites lie many such Mayors of Casterbridge in our own institutions and organisations. It is a wonder, despite the many organisational transformation programmes and trainings we attend in the course of our careers, that we have adequate tools to detect narcissistic leaders or even the tools to detect sound character.

The education journey of Bernie Madoff would show that he had no lack of it ( Yet something went wrong somewhere. The trailer to movie "In God We Trust" (, which showcases Madoff's secretary's account ends with a chilling note - she worked for him for 25 years and she did not know who he was.

Professor Manfred Kets De Vries, a clinical professor of leadership development, also the Chair of Leadership Development and Organizational Change at INSEAD, France, Singapore and Abu Dhabi speaks candidly about narcissistic inclinations in leaders and if not addressed could affect the soundness and sustainability of organisations. Professor Manfred hones in on the crux of education in the making of a leader. The following conversation with Professor Manfred surfaced such deep insights into the role of education and what narcissism is all about to Ethics In Business. He also discussed how the quest for outward glitter and shallowness today is resulting in many losing a sense of the true meaning of life. Please see link for full interview (

Great civilisations were built by people of sound characters. Do we know the people we choose to lead us, lead our nations, our institutions, and our destinies, today? Or can we realistically? Or are we allowing ourselves to be deluded by sterling CVs and superficialities? Perhaps our quest for external glitter veils us from the fact that a strong tree is held by roots embedded deep beneath the ground. Without these roots, the externality of the tree is simply naught. There is no tree. Like the roots of a tree, without the tools to imbue soundness in character, perhaps we all contributing to creating Mayors of Casterbridge in our own societies!