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What you need to know about narcissistic leaders – Part 2

So last blog I quoted a description of the narcissist as someone who is; “arrogant, haughty, grandiose, thinks he or she is superior and deserving of special treatment, requires excessive admiration, is oblivious to the feelings of others, lacks empathy, has a sense of entitlement, overestimates his or her abilities and acts patronising”.

We looked at three initial traits;

their failure to listen, their over-sensitivity and their patronising approach, and our potential response to them.

Today we look at the next 4;

  1. They are over-controlling: Show your boss how his efforts are hurting him rather than attempting to explain the impact on you or others. Frankly they don’t really care that they are hurting others or leaving skeletons in their wake, but they do care how their behaviour is impacting their personal quest.


  1. They explode in anger: Here’s one with which I battle; emotional explosions are not my strong point and the fight or flight response kicks in quickly. But what works is to remain calm and to look at the facts. And as has become the common point of departure, explain why it will hurt him and his company. And once you’ve achieved that, Maccoby advises to never apologise to your boss after one of his irrational outbursts; he’ll think he’s justified!


  1. They exaggerate: usually to tell you how they are the only ones capable of saving a situation or how brilliant they are in having turned a situation around. Humour him, ‘reflect reflect reflect’, and then you may need to take some time to communicate the less exaggerated reality for staff. I know of a particular senior manager who needs to create a crisis in order for him to produce some highly innovative contingency plans. In many cases you may need to protect your staff from the flurry of activity this produces, yet reflect the gravity of the ‘crisis’ to him. Of course if the exaggeration spills over into blatant fabrications of the balance sheet or financial projections, it’s time to get out!


  1. They lack self-knowledge: It was entirely unreasonable to expect CEO Jack Welch to take a reflective look at himself and analyse his thoughts or feelings. So don’t try to point out personality traits or psychological observations to your narcissistic boss – he won’t take kindly to them! He doesn’t really care, but again if you can demonstrate how it will harm him or get in the way of his goals, it can work.

I can’t say that any of that any of the above is easy.

Maccoby’s book was published in 2007 and at the time, he concluded that narcissitic leaders were on the rise.

I expect by 2018 that they are all around us and best we get better at managing them. I think there is a point at which some of my clients are too violated or too compromised by the narcissistic behaviour, in which case I will coach them through an exit strategy. But there are lessons to be learnt in terms of which traits we might model ourselves and how to get better at managing the narcissists who surround us.


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