Aristotle said, “There was never a genius without a tincture of madness.” For those of us who aren’t geniuses Aristotle’s words are a small comfort. “At least,” our average minds think, “we aren’t mad.”
We look up to smart people, great artists, and record-breakers—but we also know that some of them are a little off. Van Gogh was a pioneering artist, but he cut off his ear. Nikola Tesla made ground breaking discoveries in the field of electrical engineering, but he was obsessed with the number three and pigeons. And Ernest Hemingway introduced a new literary style to American letters, but he took his own life after dealing with decades of depression.
According to Professor Nassir Ghaemi—history’s greatest leaders also have “a tincture of madness.” Professor Ghaemi says that figures like Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln were great crisis leaders because they were great depressives.
If you want to be one of those figures that can galvanize a country or a business that’s floundering it would appear that you would do well if you could arm yourself with a few mood disorders.
The leaders Professor Ghaemi looks at certainly had problems with depression, but does that mean people who don’t deal with similar problems would be incompetent in crisis leadership roles?
Aristotle and Professor Ghaemi are certainly right. Unusual minds frame problems in a different light and are highly creative—but this mindset discounts the talents of those who aren’t mad or fighting depression.
Artists like Picasso to Nabakov weren’t mad, but they are nonetheless geniuses. Leaders like Eisenhower and Washington weren’t people who dealt with severe depression–but they were certainly powerful crisis leaders.
Professor Ghaemi’s work is interesting and it’s great to see how certain leaders turned their weaknesses into incredible strengths. But don’t worry–you don’t need to be mad or depressed to achieve great things.