The League

Dr. Matthew Prowler
Resident Psychiatrist

Dr. Matthew Prowler

Resident Psychiatrist at The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania

When Personality Trumps Performance


What is the mark of a good leader? While leadership styles certainly differ -- the quiet, lead-by-example versus the vocal approach, for instance -- there may be qualities that effective leaders share. Whether in the locker room, boardroom or on the battlefield, we can point to intelligence, courage, and charisma as necessary elements of a leader. Although a certain amount of self-regard is desirable for any individual, we especially look for confidence in our leaders. This inspires others to strive for goals that may have seemed out of reach.

But can healthy self-regard become unhealthy self-love? Although the distinction is difficult, the answer undoubtedly is yes; a little narcissism can be okay, but too much "me, me, me" leaves little room for others.

Athletes, along with Wall Street execs, are frequently cast as models of narcissism and greed. Terrell Owens has been a poster child for this characterization throughout his career. After T.O.'s third ignominious departure from a NFL team, media outlets have marveled at how such a talent could find himself jobless. Owens' superior skill and work-ethic are well documented and applauded. However, his actions continually create controversy - and indeed, he seems to relish generating it. His initial honeymoon periods with each of his quarterbacks - Jeff Garcia, Donovan McNabb, and Tony Romo - have all ended in divorce. Past teammates have painted him as a divisive force. And the images of him tauntingly posing on the Dallas star logo or pulling a Sharpie marker out of his sock after touchdowns are as memorable as his touchdown catches.

What makes a person act this way? The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) - the 'bible' of psychiatry and psychology - describes 'pathological' narcissism as a personality disorder. Theorists have highlighted parental failures - such as overindulgence or emotional absence - as well as genetic inheritance as possible causes. The DSM defines the disorder by common characteristics, such as grandiosity, an exaggerated sense of entitlement and need for admiration, and excessive envy of others, all of which may lead to destructive interpersonal relationships. Again, the line between healthy and unhealthy narcissism is a fine one and still largely subjective. But these traits, whether they constitute a 'disorder' or not, can be especially harmful in any atmosphere where teamwork is valued and necessary for success.

I have not come to bury T.O., nor to diagnose him; I do not know him personally or professionally. Perhaps he has been treated unfairly by the media. Perhaps the conflict that has followed him on each NFL stop has been undeserved. Or maybe, talent does not always trump bad behavior. To avoid future "T.O.-like" chaos, why not include one more stat in each player's Combine report card ... the PWO index ... Plays Well with Others.

By Dr. Matthew Prowler  |  March 6, 2009; 12:26 PM ET  | Category:  Dallas Cowboys , Dr. Matthew Prowler Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: T.O.'s Longest Yard | Next: Help, Hype, Hurt?

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