4 signs you may be a narcissistic leader

Aug. 21, 2013 | by Doug Lawrence

Narcissism, unlike egotism, is a very difficult kind of pathology to identify until you experience it for a prolonged period. Even then, it may take some time to realize that you have been the victim of it. Leaders who don’t recognize it in themselves put their coworkers at risk for burnout or worse. 

You don’t need a degree in psychology to know when you have been subjected to abusive narcissism, and people often have to get professional help to overcome their feelings of the subtle mistreatment which usually accompanies it. 

Here are four signs that you may be a narcissistic leader: 

You rarely take responsibility for programatic failures. You may seem to, but you usually find a way to place the blame elsewhere.

Leaders who suffer from rampant narcissism will often phrase their questions to staff like this, “Where do you think WE went wrong?” What they really mean is YOU and they will prove it’s YOU over time by working behind the scenes to discover your failures and assess befitting blame. Taking such blame or even partial blame themselves is almost impossible.

You don’t show much emotion during conflict, particularly conflict which involves you personally in some way. You pride yourself on staying cool and objective. If anyone comes up against that posture you lash out and demean them—sometimes in front of others.

Most people would say that it is a virtue to appear unflappable in difficult discussions. A non-anxious presence is wonderful in the right situations. If, however, you find it impossible to “get into” the conversation with genuine human emotion, you might just be a narcissist. 

Surprisingly, though, if someone questions your lack of passion in such circumstances, you may be tempted to “take them down” on the spot. How dare someone accuse you of not being ardent and truly sincere. 

You “suck the air out of the room” with your presence alone. People look up to you, because there’s no other way to look—except up.  

Narcissists are usually “bigger than life.” They are frequently the brightest person in the room and they have either taken, or have been given, the ultimate authority. Many CEOs, pastors, etc., are highly evolved narcissistic personalities.

There are lots of ways this overwhelming presence figuratively empties the room of everyone but the “commander”—even if all the chairs are filled with bodies. 

If a narcissist is self-aware and wants to avoid the pitfalls of this behavior, they will have to work extremely hard to do so.  

For some, a good strategy is simply saying, “I struggle with believing that I’m usually right—that I know things that other people don’t—so don’t hesitate to help me listen better."

Everyone is in a constant scramble to please you. This is really rough for those who work with you, because you never seem to be truly pleased with anything they do. 

Note to narcissists: Why put people through this? If you have painfully discovered you are cursed with this horrible condition, be quick to affirm others. Mean it! Be honest about the deficits of those you work with (and your own), and in a productive way that suggests you are going to stand with them through whatever process is required to fix it—stay the course with them. 

You are incredibly charming. Most folks in your organization think you walk on water, but your staff is constantly dancing gingerly around you, waiting to see if you like them. You are, as many writers on the subject have suggested, like Jekyll and Hyde. 

This is probably the worst of the worst. Most think you are wonderful, your staff is scared to do anything that might upset you.

A possible solution is to build out your base of honest observers who are not afraid to confront you when you step out of line regarding human interaction. It’s not about “putting you in your place,” it’s about having a real place from which to lead. 

In summary, some may feel this writing to be harsh or unfair. If you have ever worked for a narcissist, however, you will probably feel some sense of vindication for your hurt and abused feelings. 

If you haven’t worked with someone like this, you probably stopped reading this piece early on.

If, however, you ARE a narcissist you probably think this is absolute nonsense! Narcissists rarely see themselves in negative descriptions. It’s called “cognitive dissonance.”



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Doug Lawrence / Writer, Coach, and Friend to Churches.
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