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Complainers, whiners, pessimists...sometimes, the people in our lives just see the glass as half empty. But that doesn't mean they have to bring everyone around them down.

The Narcissistic Boss

When a boss is impossible

Narcissism in the Workplace:

You probably wonder why your boss seems to give you such a hard time.

  • He builds you up, only to tear you down.
  • She sees the bad and not the good.
  • He makes you anxious and worried.

Do any of these behaviors make a person a narcissistic boss?

Hardly. 

Taken from a manager's perspective, dealing with people is demanding. Your work reflects upon her and not just on you. Sometimes he will build you up, but he can't always be Mr. Nice Guy. Some managers are self-serving and manipulative, but many employees too easily see narcissism in management because they’re not acting like a friend or parent.

Criticisim goes with business.

If it's meant to make you better at what you do, it can be a good thing.

On the other hand, narcissistic mangagement happens. These characters often rise to the top with  intense self-promotion.

  • They make you feel like you are the only person in the room, only to slam you down or ignore you afterwards.

Just note that these kinds of bosses do what's good for them in the moment, because narcissism's hallmark is relentless self centered-ness and self-validation. A true narcissist is emotionally ruthless, and tolerates little competition.  They rarely admit to being wrong, so you have to be careful. A narcissist can sting you.

Don't try to diagnose your boss, but do try to protect yourself if you sense that you have a problem on your hands.

The Normal Boss:

A normal boss will try to enable you to succeed at the task at hand. Encouragement and guidance counts, which means that you must be able to work with feedback. It’s a key to the workplace. Constructive criticism will only improve your performance.  A good boss helps you get better at what you do.

Some bosses lay back and give you room. Watch out. With little direction, he may be setting up a huge opportunity for miscommunication and disappointment. A leader is not narcissistic if he demands. And, she is not narcissistic if she makes a mistake and makes you pay. That just makes her a jerk. (You may be able to work with a jerk; the narcissistic boss is infinitely more difficult.)

Know Your Triggers:

Remember that you bring your own psychology to the workplace. 

Perhaps you had a demanding father or a critical mother.  As such, you may be sensitive to normal supervision.  Be careful. You don’t want to be acting out at work. Too many people bring old resentments to the work place; and guess who loses. (Hint: It’s not the boss.)

If you find yourself angry or hurt too much at work, consider getting a professional opinion from a therapist or an industrial psychologist. Your boss may be pushing your buttons. That doesn't necessarily make him or her the problem.

The Narcissistic Boss:

The legendary Steve Jobs was a notoriously demanding boss. He was obsessed with getting his company, Apple, to the top and staying there.  Whether or not he was a true narcissist is up for debate.  Fellow Psychology Today Blogger, Gregg Henriques, Ph.D., argues that Jobs fit the criteria. Aimee Groth presents the other side, arguing that Steve Job’s reputation for bullying does not make him a narcissist.

Whether or not Steve Jobs had a diagnosis, here are some narcissistic traits you may find in a boss:

  • He has a sense of entitlement
  • He's unusually charismatic and can make you feel special.
  • Yet he can attack ruthlessly if criticized or threatened.
  • He requires excessive admiration
  • She believes she is "special" or "unique"
  • She easily uses people
  • She is arrogant and displays superior attitudes and behaviors
  • He has a grandiose sense of self-importance
  • He yearns for unlimited success and power
  • She lacks empathy
  • She is compensating for low self-esteem

Identifying the Narcissistic Boss:

In the workplace, a major problem with a narcissistic boss is their tendency to take credit for everything.  You’re like a bottle of soap that’s dispensed at will.  You are close to her, when it suits and disposed of just as easily.  You sense her ambition but not her true concern. She tells you that you are wonderful and drops you when something goes wrong.

Diane came to work for Andy after being wooed to his company with promises of money and opportunity. It was special for Diane, because for once, she felt fully validated and appreciated. Soon after arriving at Andy's company, Diane stopped hearing from Andy. Then Diane made a small error, she forgot to mention her "mentor" at a company briefing. Andy called her into the office and let her have it. Disloyalty was the nicest word he used.

Diane wished that she had never left her old job.

Many narcissistic people are charismatic, so your boss may know how to make you feel special. But it's a power ploy, however unconscious, and once finished, he moves on as if you never counted in the first place.

“He treats me like he’s known me forever.” 

Narcissists know how to make you feel important. The question is whether or not your boss acts consistently like you are important or just a cog in her machine. 

You need to protect yourself psychologically if you begin to sense your role as an employee is in jeopardy. Recognize that you may never really be validated in your workplace. You may do something good without receiving any credit, and it hurts. But it is the way of things with a narcissistic boss. Normal people share, narcissists want the credit all for themselves; and they often believe their own lies.  The narcissist truly operates under the code, “What did you do for me today?” It can be exhausting.

A narcissist is all about his or her needs.  And sometimes this can go beyond the workplace. For example, your boss might find himself attracted to you and this can result in sexual harassment. Or he may simply demand extra work from you (without compensation) that goes way outside the responsibilities of the job. The narcissistic ego is a massively entitled ego. 

The Angry Boss:

If you cross a narcissistic boss, watch out for vengeance.  She will remember and punish you. It's part of the syndrome. Like in Diane's case, if he feels criticized or publically humiliated by you (even if it’s not your fault), a narcissist will almost certainly try to hurt you back.  He wants to win, with no prisoners taken. If you sense that you are dealing with a person that wants to win at all costs, even at the cost of truth or fairness, take note. This may not be a safe person to be around.

Narcissistic people will undermine others they believe pose a threat to their position. If you are truly talented, be careful; you may need to find a way out and consider looking for a new job. Worst case scenario, if you’re attacked, you may also need to combat this issue legally. Unfortunately, this could create a reputation for you as the employee who likes to take employers to court – which could also hurt your career. So weigh your options very carefully. 

If you find yourself overwhelmed by a narcissistically inclined boss, take a deep breath. Then, get specific about demands, so you can document that you complied. Recognize that you don’t really count, so don’t expect loyalty from him.

Don't overtly complain or underperform. Your boss is not a parent, and she will make you pay. And, finally, prepare an escape plan in case she turns on you, or you’ve had enough.

Maintain Your Sanity:

If you have issues with a narcissistic boss, continue doing your job, if possible. Don’t be bitter about having a narcissist for a boss and try not to act out passive aggressively or angrily. This is never the solution. (Once again, he or she will find a way to make you pay.)

Take Meryl’s Streep’s character in The Devil Wears Prada. She plays a powerful fashion magazine editor who appears to lack empathy and compassion for her employees. Her character represents the devil in the aforementioned title for being a demanding boss who is never satisfied.

Ironically, the best bosses inspire rather than demean, like Joe Torre, the former manager of the New York Yankees. Torre won four World Series rings with the same club and is known for being one of the best coaches Major League Baseball has ever known. Torre never put his players down but instead inspired them to be their best. 

In the end, the great bosses inspire and in return receive loyalty from their employees. Narcissistic bosses undermine loyalty because of their fear and inability to inspire. Loyalty is not just money. In the end, it’s a job. Give your best. Try to understand your manager realistically. Stay if it works for you, and leave on your own terms if he is impossible.

Stay Centered:

It bears repeating that therapy may help you to stay centered in the presence of a boss who is often provocative. The narcissistic boss is provocative when he builds you up and he is provocative when she cuts you down. In the end, you may have to develop some healthy narcissism yourself.

Plan your own strategy, and navigate this tough environment.

Or, build a solid resume and contribute to the world. 

 

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