Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Tips for Managing Your Narcissistic Boss or Employee

Do you work for a narcissist?

Narcissistic leaders draw attention to themselves. They tend to accomplish a lot, so they are often allowed to stay in their positions. But how they accomplish things can be brutal. And eventually, people have had enough.

The current uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East are supported by people who have finally had enough of their narcissistic leaders. What makes one a narcissist?

From the DSM-IV, the Bible of psychiatric disorders, the Narcissistic Personality Disorder is defined as “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning in early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five or more of the following…”

There are nine behaviors listed, including “is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love”, “has a sense of entitlement” , “is interpersonally exploitative, i.e. takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends” , “is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her” and “shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.”

This not only describes leaders such as Qaddafi and Mubarak in the Middle East, but also describes many leaders in business. Do you recognize anyone you know?

If you have a narcissistic boss, you may be expected to work long hours with no recognition that you have any personal life. You will be expected to be brilliant and on top of things at all times, but will get no recognition for your hard work, and indeed, your boss may take the credit. The narcissistic leader abuses power, lacks empathy, and thinks that the rules don’t apply to them. They are special, and you are not and never will be on their level.

Don’t take anything your self-obsessed leader does or says personally. It’s never about you. Keep your conversations about work. You can try to talk to them about how you work best – it may be worth a shot to educate them about specific issues you’d like to see changed. But keep it professional and objective. Complaints won’t get you any headway with a narcissist, and attacking doesn’t help with anyone. If your narcissist is particularly abusive of their power, get out. They won’t change.

If you suspect you have a narcissistic employee, be vigilant. Don’t share personal information. Stay on top of any attempts to discredit you or others, and ask for accountability whenever there is a hint of transgressions. They will need coaching on how to be a team player.

At their core, narcissists feel inadequate. So contrary as it sounds, you can help your narcissistic employee by building their self-esteem: discover their strengths, help them develop them, and congratulate them on their successes.

Narcissists, as long as they are kept reigned in to some extent, can be top producers and valuable assets to an organization. So your narcissistic boss is probably here to stay. And if you have a narcissistic direct report, your leadership skills will be heavily tested. If you can positively manage your narcissist employee while still developing a cohesive, productive team environment, then you will have become an excellent leader.

Warning: foul language! Again.

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