Are You Working for a Narcissist?

Leadership styles are under the microscope – with Trump and Boris being analysed endlessly. However, the so-called “great man” style of leadership is not always an easy one to live (or work) with.

narcissist
Photo by Fares Hamouche on Unsplash

Humans instinctively respond to confidence in a positive way. Experts who sound the most authoritative are generally listened to more and believed wholeheartedly.

As a result, it is the most self-assured in their pronouncements who tend to be held in the highest esteem – regardless of whether they are telling the truth or are being accurate or not.

The problem is that while this may help these individuals rise to the top, they might not be great for your organisation…or your career.

Narcissists are Highly Believable – So Try to Keep an Open Mind

So how do you spot a narcissist? Well, it is important to analyse what your existing/future boss is saying rather than being fooled by how they are saying it.

According to The Myers-Briggs Company (one of the world’s largest business psychology providers) experts who “sound” the most confident are also more likely to get things wrong. “Therefore, overzealous and over-confident leaders can mean potential dangers for both the political scene and the workplace,” it warns.

So if you are in a toxic workplace – or are thinking of moving jobs – avoid the over-confident leader particularly if they do not like being challenged (which they will see as a threat). They could be running the organisation into the ground.

Other tell-tale signs are a “lack of warmth” (although they might be charismatic, they may have followers rather than friends).

If you are Forced to Agree with Everything they Say, Walk Away

Narcissists have positive and inflated views of themselves and this can become a problem when they “maintain these views despite contrary evidence, and often at the expense of others”.

While you may be tempted to argue your points, present all the facts and enlist the support of others to make your case, this is not going to work with a narcissist, because they are always right.

If you are in an interview and feel your thoughts are dismissed, perhaps this is not a good boss to work for.

They will Blame You (Not Themselves) – So Avoid Them

“Leaders sometimes think there’s a problem with their team, when in fact it is the leader who is the real issue”, warns Myers-Briggs. There is evidence that individuals who are more narcissistic are not only more likely to become leaders, but they are also more likely to perform less effectively in this role than others.

So, while it might be frustrating to work for someone who always knows better, the narcissistic trait that can be most damaging is that you will find that everyone else – including you – is to blame when things go wrong. You could miss out on a promotion or worse, get fired, or be forced to leave with a bad reference, because the person you work for cannot admit to making any mistakes.

Lack of Diversity is a Red Flag – So Look Around

Additional research from The Myers-Briggs Company on narcissism and leadership has demonstrated that this kind of behaviour can lead to women being less likely to seek out leadership roles, even when they are as well or better qualified than men.

So, if the you are looking for a new job avoid the organisations that look stale/male/pale.

Will you be Heard? Group-Think is Another Killer

Narcissism is the rejection of others’ input. Along with overconfidence, this can lead to ‘group think’, where in the rush to make decisions, information that is inconvenient to the story constructed by the leader is ignored.

Myers-Briggs research also demonstrates that overconfident and dominant leaders can actively inhibit the exchange of information between members of a group, worsening the negative effects of this group think. 

So not only will your voice not be heard, you could be working for an organisation that is heading for failure.

Those Who Admit to Weaknesses Are the Strong

So what makes a good leader?

Well a boss who can admit to having a few weaknesses is going to be more self-aware. As a result, he or she will be better able to build teams that help address their shortcomings. What is needed in a successful organisation, is a good mix of different skills and personalities.

A good leader, will also create a culture and systems that inspire the people around them, so do not just look at the boss’s qualities, see who they surround themselves with and how varied and valued they are.

How to Deal with a Narcissist

The first thing is to not blindly follow them. Focus on facts that you can verify and not their opinions.

Work on building your network. The future is a “wirearchy” people whose power and influence is based on connectedness and the flow of information rather than a power base. This can help insulate and protect you.

John Hackston, Head of Thought Leadership at The Myers-Briggs Company, says it is also important to build self-awareness. “By becoming more aware of their personality and biases, individuals can make more informed decisions, helping them to overcome the pressure to follow ‘group think’ and narcissistic leaders,” he says.

At the same time, avoid challenging a narcissist (remember they are always right) or angering them by undermining them (they rely on a power base, so avoid office gossip in case it gets back to them).

Treat them in the way they would expect: listen, agree, respect them, follow their instructions etc… and accept responsibility/blame for any failings (even if they are hers/his).

Then, try to make a quiet exit. If a narcissist gets wind that you are looking for another job, they will see this as a betrayal. So play your cards close to your chest and when you resign make sure your letter is full of flattery about how much you have learned from your boss and how inspirational he/she has been.