There seems to be at least one narcissist leader in every leadership group. In short, a narcissist leader is a person with an unrealistic or inflated sense of self-importance, lack of empathy, unable to see others’ perspectives, and is hypersensitive to what they perceive as criticism. For the official American Psychological Association definition, click here.
When the narcissist is the CEO or they are peppered through the ranks of leaders the culture is going to be much harder to manage. If that describes your workplace, you are excused from reading the rest of this column, because you need to quit as soon as you possibly can.
Narcissists often make very good leaders – for a while. When the good times are rolling, they can be easy going and charming. However, when the accolades dry up, they begin to feel challenged or threatened.
I once worked for a senior leader who pitched a screaming fit about twice a year when she wasn’t getting her way with a peer or team member. We never knew when it was coming, but the message was always a variation of “it’s your fault I am not reaching my goals.”
At this point a leader is toxic. Instead of accepting responsibility when a project fails to perform as anticipated, he will blame and then sacrifice followers as necessary to protect his self-image and position in the company. Trust among team members in the leader then evaporates and people become very task oriented in an effort to keep their heads down and not be noticed.
The Need for Loyalty
Many narcissist leaders are more concerned with how they present themselves than their actual effectiveness. When they feel others are turning on them (by “making them look bad”), they begin to demand loyalty. If someone has to ask or demand loyalty, they don’t deserve it.
I worked for a senior executive who pulled his direct reports into his office on a regular basis and asked us to help him “get the goods” on the current target of his ire. If you didn’t appear to be interested in helping him gain revenge by ruining someone else’s career, he took it as a sign you were not loyal. Needless to say, many “non-loyal” people simply “disappeared” from work.
What To Do
This list will help you, for a time, make peace with a narcissist leader.
- Set your expectations low
- Make them look good
- Don’t demand or expect credit
- Whatever hurtful thing is done or said, remember that it is not about you
- Don’t give negative feedback – even (and especially) when asked
- Line up a new position
If you need help managing a narcissist leader, please reach out to me via my website to schedule a free, no obligation one-hour Power Session.
Gregory Alford, MS. Psy., is founder of Accelerated Coaching & Consulting LLC, and specializes in business, leadership and life coaching and Marcom consulting. Learn more at http://acceleratedcoachingandconsulting.com