narcissistic leaders great impact to workplace

“That’s enough of me talking about myself – let’s hear you talk about me!” – The Narcissistic Leader

It would seem that with an election cycle in full bloom, it’s only natural that we keep hearing the word “narcissist” used daily in the mainstream news media. Now before any of you jump down my throat for taking political sides, let me be clear – this article is about character not candidates.

We all know the dark side to being an individual who displays narcissistic traits or tendencies – they are self-absorbed, egomaniacal and void of outside criticism…but is it all-bad? Depends on where you sit.

From personal experience, I believe finding a silver lining when working for this type of leader is not only possible but also necessary for both self-preservation but also self-growth.

So what exactly is a narcissist?

There are many definitions out there all containing similar key words such as – vain, ego, conceited and self-absorbed. No matter how you look at it, an individual who possesses these traits is probably not someone you want on your speed dial. According to, they defined it like this:

Narcissistic [nahr-suh-sis-tik] : Having an undue fascination with oneself; vain. *Narcissism Synonyms: self-centeredness,smugnessegocentrism.

Why are narcissistic individuals so potentially hazardous to be around, especially in the workplace?

Hmm…sounds like the type of leader one would want to run away from, but the article goes on to give some better (and healthier) examples of narcissistic leaders such as the legendary Jack Welch, who was able to use this type of behavior to produce massive transformation. An insightful read that lays out some solid pros and cons but it left me wanting more in terms of how one could actually take this type of negative behavior and turn into a positive. Lets start with 8 negative traits most narcissistic leaders exude:

  1. Steals The Spotlight. They love to be the center of attention, and will look for any opportunity to do so by simply dominating a situation until everyone knows they are there. This can take the form of a meeting, presentation or phone call in the workplace. Being disruptive is commonplace and putting others down to prop up their stature and power is second nature.
  2. Blames Everyone Else. Passing the buck and casting blame on someone else for their inability or ineffectiveness in some area is the norm. Void of responsibility for their own actions, they typically will blame whoever is closest at that point in time.
  3. Manipulates Everyone. Selfish to the core, the narcissist is always motivated to do what’s best for them. The only time it involves you is to advance them and their agenda. Coupled with an over-inflated ego, their methods are vast and plenty and with a sole focus on winning, they are typically out of control.
  4. Only Listens To Reply. Narcissists are rarely present in the presence of others. In fact, most conversations are readily imbalanced due to their anxiousness to reply rather than listen. Because in the end, the center of the conversation must be focused on them and not you.
  5. Conversation Interrupter. The classic shut down. The narcissist can help but interrupt others and quickly switch the focus back on them.
  6. Unable To Take Criticism. Narcissists are usually extremely sensitive and are unable take any type of criticism constructively. Like a cat that can’t stop chasing a laser beam, narcissists can’t let go of negative criticism about their character and can jump on others who challenge them.
  7. Competitive. Being competitive is in their blood. Their pursuit of victory is something out of a Rocky movie. They take any challenge like it’s the Hunger Games, and a test of their strength and survival skills. They will also do whatever it takes to win.
  8. Lacks Empathy. They don’t care how you are doing or what happened to you, unless it impacts them in a negative way. They see your role as someone to make them feel important.

Obviously no one signs up to follow a narcissistic leader but if you do and they exude any (or all) of the above traits, there is hope. In fact, there is a wealth you can learn from these types of people.

Here are 3 positive takeaways you can learn from working for a narcissistic leader:

Wellness. Recognize and take appropriate action to ensure your self-esteem is intake and okay. It’s easy when under stress (or working in a stressful environment) to forget to take care of you mind, body and spirit. Find the balance and commit to making the time to honor yourself. Finding both an outlet (or outlets) and balance in managing your work life balance is critical to sustaining a long and fruitful career.

Silence. It’s easy to succumb to the gossip and cooler talk when working for this type of leader but don’t do it. According to Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, the CEO of Hogan Assessment Systems, “Narcissists are constantly trying to collect information about what other people think of them.” If you need to vent, talk to your therapist, spouse, or a friend—provided they don’t work at your company or in your industry. Be as “neutral as possible” when your boss’s name comes up in conversation and “never put anything in email,” he says. Learning this skill will undoubtedly keep you safe along your career journey.

Emulation. Watching a narcissist in action could potentially show you a few good ways to better navigate yourself in the workplace but of course, use your best judgment. Here are a few examples I found in an excellent article titled “How To Work With A Narcissist”by Rebekah Iliff:

  • They tend to speak out about a problem, whereas others will be more polite and say nothing.
  • They tend to think and work outside the box, often offering unexpected new and fresh ideas and concepts.
  • Their perfectionism and control (when tempered) can produce profoundly positive results within their organizations.
  • Their need for attention and validation can shine on their workplace, bringing more attention and useful notice to an organization.

Final thoughts: So there you have it. The bad, good and of course the ugly which in this case is (still) the character of the individual and not a specific candidate. Although working for this type of leader possesses a lot of risk and negativity – there are some positives if you are willing to look for it. All joking aside, understanding the various ways a narcissistic individual can manipulate you is key for both your professional and personal life. There are some that suffer from NPD or Narcissistic Personality Disorder and it’s something quite real. If you find yourself in a situation that is unhealthy and/or potentially unsafe, go seek support from within your companies HR or People Operations Team. Your career and learning is important but so is your wellbeing.

The floor is yours: What’s the best lesson you learned from a bad leader?

Please leave your comment below as your insights are greatly appreciated and a learning opportunity for everyone reading this article.

With leadership, Joshua

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