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Is Your Boss a Narcissist?

Workplace behavior that can drive us crazy

As a college student and aspiring writer, I worked part-time at the local newspaper. One day, the editor called me into his office. “I have an important assignment for you,” he said, then handed me his coat with a loose button to take to the tailor shop to be repaired. I looked back in disbelief—he wanted me to leave my desk, abandon my work, and drive across town so a tailor could sew on his button?

It was Saturday. His secretary wasn’t there. All the reporters were out covering stories. I was the only one at the news desk, but I did his errand—I’d heard about his terrible temper. This was only a small example. The editor was a petty potentate, a narcissist who exploited the newsroom staff, driving them crazy with his demands.

According to the DSM-5 narcissists are people with “a sense of entitlement” and “a grandiose sense of self-importance.” Arrogant, “interpersonally exploitative” and lacking in empathy, they “expect great dedication from others and may overwork them without regard for the impact on their lives” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, pp. 669-670).” Workers at some Silicon Valley companies groan when they see pizzas delivered a few minutes before 5:00 p.m., portending another long night at the office, cancelled plans, and emergency phone calls to families and friends, to work on another of their boss’s “urgent” projects. These days, narcissistic managers are apparently on the rise. Leadership consultant Margaret Wheatley has observed that “in the past few years. . .leadership strategies have taken a great leap backward to the familiar territory of command and control” as more and more leaders “act as though people are machines” (2005, pp. 4, 74).

Have you felt disrespected and driven by a narcissistic boss’s dictates and demands? Interacting with narcissists can be crazy making, leading you to feel there’s something wrong with you. Reasoning with them doesn’t work. Lacking empathy, they don’t listen. And because they crave control, they can perceive disagreement as a personal attack, exploding in narcissistic rage.

If this pattern sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Talk to a trusted friend, a therapist, a representative from your union or professional organization, someone who can give you sound advice. Keep records of the narcissist’s unacceptable behavior, start considering your options, and share coping strategies with others.

Have you had a narcissistic boss?

If so, what did you do?


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.) Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Wheatley, M. J. (2005). Finding our way: Leadership for an uncertain time. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

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