Mark Zuckerberg: Brilliant. Deceptive. Interactive?

Mark Zuckerberg has been painted as many things, from brilliant and visionary to robotic and downright duplicitous.

The least-flattering of these impressions — fueled in part by his long battle with the Winklevoss twins and Facebook’s murky privacy policies — was hardly dispelled when earlier this week, wind of a new lawsuit was leaked to the press. The complaint is based on a dozen emails in which a then-19-year-old Zuckerberg appears to sign away more than half of his “The Face Book” project to a small-time investor for $2,000, only to renege on the deal when his site’s growth begins to explode. (In the emails, Zuckerberg allegedly tells the backer that he hasn’t had time to build the site so he “will mail you back the $2,000 for your trouble.”)

Whether the case has any merit remains to be seen, but at least one observer doesn’t think it will matter much in the long run. Some time ago, Washington-based psychoanalyst, anthropologist, and best-selling author Michael Maccoby decided that Zuckerberg, who is often grouped with such visionaries as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Larry Ellison, probably shouldn’t be. He doesn’t think that Zuckerberg has the “kind of personality” as those other “clear, change-the-world types.”

It’s an audacious claim, considering the ubiquity of Facebook and the control that Zuckerberg wields over it. And Maccoby is quick to note that he has never met Zuckerberg. (“I’ve read what everyone else has read about him,” he says.)

Still, Maccoby has developed plenty of pattern recognition during his career. Though he now teaches leadership at Oxford’s Saïd Business School, he spent more than 30 years advising Fortune 500 CEOs on the different personality traits within the top ranks of their companies. And drawing on insights developed by Sigmund Freud as well as the social scientist Erich Fromm, he sees Zuckerberg as “much more dependent on other people” than true visionaries. Indeed, he suspects that Zuckerberg is an “interactive” personality, rather than a “narcissistic” one.

“Narcissists in general don’t have a very strong superego or conscience, but they have a very strong self ideal,” says Maccoby. “They have a true passion for changing the world for the better, and if they don’t live up to their idea of [how to make it happen], they feel a certain kind of shame.” Maccoby believes that many of the world’s business leaders, including Jobs, Ellison, Bill Gates and even Oprah Winfrey have narcissistic personalities.

So-called “interactive” personalities, meanwhile, are often adept at adapting to new trends and using other successful people as models, says Maccoby. He says the origins of the personality type “begin at an early age, when children whose parents work or who attend day care learn to be interactive with other people, creating teams and new partnerships.”

These aren’t bad things, say Maccoby, but they aren’t conducive to developing one’s own vision.

Another tell, he says, are that interactive types tend to “lack a clear center,” a theme that he sees reflected in the way that Zuckerberg operates Facebook.

“If you look at how they handle privacy, there’s never been a strong stance from an ethical point of view,” says Maccoby. Indeed, he says, “I think it’s fair to say that Zuckerberg is lacking in conscience. Certainly, someone who had a strong conscience would feel somewhat guilty about the way he treated the Winklevoss twins and his best friend [Eduardo Saverin] when he tried cutting him out of his shares. And you never see signs of guilt over anything.”

It doesn’t mean we should discount Zuckerberg’s accomplishments, suggests Maccoby. After all, we worship plenty of other executives who appear at times to be manipulative and deceitful, particularly those whose companies are thriving.

He merely suggests that calling Zuckerberg a visionary may be overstating things. “He’s certainly chosen great talent [to surround himself with over time], but all of Facebook’s ideas seem to come from other people,” says Maccoby. “There are people who passionately want to change the world for the better. I don’t hear anything like that in Zuckerberg.”