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Flying the company jet too close to the sun

Narcissistic C-suiters and the frauds they commit

Residents of C-suites and boardrooms who exhibit the “Icarus complex” often initially soar but ultimately plummet from lofty heights and take their companies with them. Here’s how organizations can identify them in the hiring process and prevent disaster.

In Greek mythology, Daedalus and his son, Icarus, escaped imprisonment on the island of Crete by fashioning wings made of feathers glued together with wax. Daedalus taught Icarus how to fly with the wax wings, but he cautioned his son not to soar too high or the sun would melt them. But Icarus ignored his father’s wise counsel and began flying higher until the wax began melting under the heat of the sun. His wings quickly fell apart, and he plunged into the sea and drowned.

Another literary tragic figure is Captain Ahab in Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick,” who’s consumed with one mission: the white whale. Ahab is a most dangerous kind of leader. His narcissistic carelessness and destructive determination defeat him as he takes the whaling ship Pequod and her crew (except for Ishmael) down with him — the maritime equivalent of flying too close to the sun.

More than ever before, organizational leadership demands not just accomplished functional skills, experience and knowledge, but also personality and psychological stability. Emotional and influential illiteracy still plague many C-suites and boardrooms as do examples of recklessness, defiance of limitations and personal overambition. Executive instability leads to fraud.

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