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From our blog

February 2018

Help! My Boss is a Narcissist!

Feb 17, 2018 3:00 PM
Bruce Hunter

"The difference between God and a Narcissist is that God doesn’t believe he’s a Narcissist”

We all know one. Smartest person in the room. Self-promoter. The arrogant know-it-all who requires an inordinate amount of air-time with little to say that isn’t blatantly self-oriented or self-serving. And the biggest problem? There’s a high probability we’ve just described a few of the traits shared by your direct superior. So now what?

In a seminal Harvard Business Review article in January of 2000, Michael Maccoby addressed the subject of the Narcissist leader. He first observed that there are three basic personality types proposed through Freud’s work. The Erotics (those who need to be loved). Teachers, nurses and social workers would be examples. The Obsessives (Inner-directed, reliant and conscientious). They look to create order and make the most effective operational managers. And finally, the Narcissists. (Independent innovators who seek admiration). The most productive are the strongest leaders, able to think big and create followers. Examples of the productive Narcissist would be Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Jack Welch. Of course the problem occurs when the coin gets flipped and we encounter the dark side of the Narcissist.  It turns out that in extreme cases, Narcissism is classified as a Mental Disorder by the psychological community. Here is the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder” or DSM–5 for the Narcissist. Don’t be surprised if more than a few appear to hit home. For self-preservation, we’ve all got some Narcissist in us.

· An exaggerated sense of self-importance.

· Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievement that would warrant it.

· Exaggerating achievements and talents.

· Being preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate.

· Believing you are superior and can only be understood by equally special people.

· Requiring constant attention.

· Having a sense of entitlement.

· Expecting favours.

· Taking advantage of others to get what you want.

· An inability or unwillingness to recognized the needs and feelings of others.

· Being envious of others and believing others envy you.

· Arrogance.

Maccoby added to this list, a summary of the weaknesses of the Narcissist leader.

1. Overly sensitive to criticism.

2. Poor listening skills. Not wanting to hear opposing points of view or thoughts.

3. Lack of empathy. This may work in times of extreme change, but otherwise not.

4. Distaste for Mentoring.

5. An intense desire to compete. Games are not games but tests of survival.

something of a tongue in cheek, Maccoby also noted that there was very little in the way of literature about how to deal with the Narcissist leader because few are really interested in looking inward.

The worst part about the foregoing attributes is that those exhibiting these types of behaviours are blind to their impact on others and surprised when it catches up with them as it most often does. Over time they find themselves alone.

Narcissistic Leadership affects large and small company alike. Entrepreneurial ventures are particularly susceptible because they rely so heavily on the direction of the owner/founder. That individual wields two big sticks: the experience acquired while building the company and the ability to effectively squash dissenting opinion. Too often, the company’s actions are directed toward the preconceived notions of the founder with disastrous results.

Thoughts on Dealing with Narcissist Leadership:

· First and foremost, if you can’t stand it. Leave. You’ll both be much happier.

· Establish a symbiotic relationship. The marriage between the Obsessives and Narcissists can be a very strong and productive bond. Someone needs to stick to the knitting, get stuff done and organized. The Obsessives provide that value and the ability to keep the Narcissist rooted in reality.

· Stick with facts. Whether speaking to new information about the corporate environment or an individual, outside –in information is the most powerful. The objectivity offered by a trusted 3rd party will also increase believability

Don’t go it alone. There is power in “we”. I often counsel leadership teams to step up as a group rather than try to tackle a leader one on one. It’s a lot easier to shoot the messenger if it’s only one person.

· Take the Narcissist out of their comfort zone. Subject experts are a great way to introduce new ideas or infuse knowledge into the mix and start the wheels of change moving. The use of case studies which illuminate similar challenges has the advantage of being both authoritative and non-confrontational


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