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Martha’s Reputation Rehab II

Not long ago, I emailed the Support Economy discussion group with a question about narcissism in large organizations and what impact highly visible leaders might have on the services they provide customers and clients. An excerpt:

Not long ago, I emailed the Support Economy discussion group with a question about narcissism in large organizations and what impact highly visible leaders might have on the services they provide customers and clients. An excerpt:

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In light of the recent Martha Stewart trial, I recently reread Shoshana’s February column which suggests that the recent wave of business scandals is the result of a narcissistic — and male — business culture. The cases discussed in the column and the Stewart investment imbroglio are slightly different, but I was struck by one phrase in particular: “Organizational narcissism is about culture, not individuals.”

Television stations have dropped Stewart’s TV program. Her column is being rebranded Living, dropping her name. And the omnimedia organization she led is considering her role within the company. But I wonder — without exploring whether leadership gaffes are male in nature — how does the Stewart case relate to the Enrons and Arthur Andersens of the world? Because Stewart’s missteps were largely individual investment decisions — not decisions made in the name of the company at large — is her “punishment” warranted?

Whether Stewart is a narcissist isn’t the issue here. But how far should our external, personal activities and choices go in terms of affecting the organizations we work for, in, and with? Does Stewart’s behavior affect the company at large? The public response I’ve been exposed to seems to indicate that her trial doesn’t change the organization’s relationship with customers — much less the support and service it offers them.

Now, in Knowledge@Wharton, a writer asks: When the CEO is the brand, but falls from grace, what’s next?

It’s a good question — and the piece goes far to consider the value — and risks — of brand personification, celebrity obsession, the balance required when building a company’s image, and whether negative publicity matters. Sign up for the Support Economy discussion group and join the conversation!

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