Imagine rushing from the dank squalor of a muddy trench, making a valiant charge against a violent explosion of machine gun fire, and then watching your friends drop around you like flies. This is how many young men died in the Great War, "Once more into the breach, dear friends." I remember reading accounts of that time and the concept that "there are no atheists in the foxhole". The only real viable way to approach such dreadful odds is to take the position that you are going to be one of the few who make it out alive. Massive self-belief can keep us alive.
There is an interesting parallel to the entrepreneurial context–one that also has daunting odds against survival. Maybe you won't die starting a venture or initiating a new business model or service, but you face numerous other nasty existential consequences like bancruptcy, embarassment and self-ruin. And I think this is also true for leaders within established organizations, hanging it out there to make some part of the business better. Change is not for the faint of heart.
A very diligent collegue of mine once did a metastudy of all the formal weight loss programs and found that the most successful one had a 5% success rate (hitting a goal weight and keeping it off for a prolonged period). I've encountered versions of this 5% "rule" in other domains and strongly suspect that it's a decent rule of thumb for any change initiative. Most initiatives outright fail or limp along, sucking the life out of their leaders, even if they have technically survived. That's what makes it so difficult and terrifying to lead a charge in any sphere. The odds are so terrible that we really need to believe that they don't apply to us. This is a strangely useful form of our mental capacity for denial and willful blindness in the face of a multitude of reasons why something will probably not work. (That bug in our mental software is really a feature.)
But the world around us if filled with the work products of leaders who did make it work and who did find a way through the machine gun fire. I believe there is no likely way to survive start-up without a healthy dollop of this narcissim. I'm not talking about narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) I'm just talking about being enough on the self-absorbed spectrum to activitate what Steve Jobs referred to as the "reality distortion field". Setting aside this reality partially underpins our capacity to perform well in environments of uncertainty and consequential risk.
If a little "strategic" narcissism has some value in getting something started, too much is surely a massive impediment to keeping it going: sustaining the key relationships required to actually build the vision and keep it working. I've heard countless complaints from ex-spouses, ex-partners, ex-employees, ex-friends, ex-investors that say that their exes were all narcissists. If any group of these key stakeholders decide to bail because they're not getting their needs met, the promise of a some sort of positive change or impact never materializes. If the visionary does not at somepoint pivot from self-focus to other-focus and absorb themselves in the lives of all their stakeholders, customers, staff, industry partners, even friends and family will simply leave and look for something better elsewhere.
I hosted a party once where two female therapist friends were in attendance. I heard from across the room one of them say the word "narcissist" to the other. I marched right over and asked, "are you talking about me?" They were. (Narcissists instantly understand why that's funny.) I don't have NPD but I am a visionary and have had to make that pivot and train myself to be more focused on making my game work for other people. It's a process.
It's easy to make scathing judgements about other people and about certain character traits that are simply a part of the grand patina of the human condition. Underneath any overused strength is always a weakness and underneath a socially-despised trait is often something of use. If you are a visionary with these tendencies you can do the hard personal work and enroll your supporters in your journey of self-awareness and self-discovery. If you are the supporter of someone struggling to make this pivot you can lead by example with respect and compassion and maybe learn something about yourself in the process. It takes both to bring something new and valuable into the work