How to spot a narcissist at work

Narcissistic leaders can be both a blessing and a curse for organizations

How to spot a narcissist at work

Ovid told the story of Narcissus, the young boy who fell in love with his own reflection, for the first time in his Metamorphoses. Since then, the world’s been seeing narcissistic traits in friends, neighbours, enemies and – often – themselves.

The true definition of a narcissist is a someone who exhibits an inflated sense of self-importance, a need for excessive admiration and a total lack of empathy for others.

Sounds scary enough in a stranger – but what if you have to deal with a narcissist in your professional life?

Narcissistic leaders can be both a blessing and a curse for organizations. On the one hand, they have a blinkered drive and determination in achieving corporate goals - on the other, they are rude, unhelpful, and generally disagreeable to work with.

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Freud claimed the narcissistic personality type was suited to the role of leader, adding that “another person's narcissism has a great attraction for those who have renounced part of their own... as if we envied them for maintaining a blissful state of mind—an unassailable libidinal position which we ourselves have since abandoned.”

And, while some narcissistic traits can be helpful in certain scenarios, realistically it’s not the sort of captain you want steering the ship.

HRD has uncovered 10 signs that your boss is a raging narcissist;

  1. They refuse to listen
  2. They display a total lack of empathy to employees
  3. They expect employees to be available to them 24/7
  4. They crave or demand constant praise
  5. They surround themselves with ‘yes men’
  6. They cannot take criticism
  7. They steal other peoples’ ideas and play them off as their own
  8. They’re very concerned with personal appearance
  9. They cannot build authentic relationships
  10. They’re unwaveringly determined in the face of adversity

So, now you’ve identified the beast – how do you defeat it?

“Setting boundaries is important when working for this type of person,” Dr Melanie Peacock told HRD.

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“It is critical to know what are, and are not, acceptable performance expectations and consequences. Keeping documentation of interactions is helpful if a decision to ask for help (legal or from HR) is made.  Weighing the pros and cons of your job is important as well.  Is the role providing learning, growth and fulfilment that outweighs the negative aspects?  It is also critical to attend to your own well-being and mental health. Finding ways, outside of work, to reinforce your self-worth is often helpful. 

“Ultimately, planning an exit strategy through careful networking and exploration of other opportunities may be necessary.  While it may be tempting it is best not to bad mouth your boss, even if the information is accurate, as this will put you in a poor light as well.”

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