The Narcissistic Boss in the Workplace
If your boss is a pathological narcissist, then you are going to experience the boss from hell. They will be cold, inconsiderate, disrespectful, dominating, hard-driving and ruthless, and they will charm and groom you from the very beginning into giving them your full support.
You can be sure that the boss will have all the criteria of the employee mentioned in my last post The Pathological Narcissist In The Workplace, but because of the position they hold as your boss, they will be even more dangerous.
Narcissistic bosses are suspicious of everyone on the payroll, and never trust their workers to do things right. They are control freaks, therefore will attempt to micromanage everything.
They expect 100% loyalty from their employees, even if that means compromising your own beliefs and values. They will expect you to do them favours out of good will. To keep the power, they will often turn to underhanded behaviour to keep people in their place, in effect, they are closeted puppet masters pulling all the strings.
For example, they often deliberately (and secretly) give confusing instructions to mislead a member of their staff and make them perform poorly, calling their reputation as a good worker into question.
When the person complains that they were only following their instructions, the narcissistic boss will deny that they gave that instruction, casting doubt publicly on the employee’s competence.
This makes an employee feel shame, which can cause them to lose confidence and doubt their own self-worth.
To compensate for any lack in themselves, they feel they must work even harder to prove their worth to the company.
Narcissistic bosses are not good at motivating their workers or giving positive and constructive feedback for work well done.
They are happier when criticising and blaming staff for poor performance, that makes them feel powerful, and more importantly, in control.
These bosses are highly envious, so when staff is performing well and coming forth with new ideas for the company, rather than being happy, they become envious of the person’s success. That may lead them to view the person as a threat, or a rival. That is, unless of course, that they can take the credit for the ideas themselves.
All organisations need to have good policy procedures for dealing with these difficult personality types. Far too often, HR personnel has had little or no instruction for dealing with staff with personality disorders.
Even when they do recognise that a staff member is being bullied, or embroiled in what looks like unresolvable conflicts, the sweet-talking narcissist can wriggle out by convincing everybody “that it is just a simple personality clash” between themselves and the other person.
Unfortunately, far too often the HR person is too quick to accept the explanation and fails to see how they have been cleverly manipulated from discovering the truth of what is happening.
HR needs to stay task orientated. That includes taking the time to gather the facts, not just from the narcissist, but from other staff members too. It is important to look for differing opinions as to what is really causing the conflict and dealing with it sooner rather than later.
Having policy procedures in place is vital at this stage, otherwise, the conflict will keep smouldering. Eventually, it will burst into flames, and other people will get burned along with the original victim.
When I was studying for my Master’s Degree in Medical Anthropology, I had to study different cultures for seeing how they treated mental health problems.
Being an Anthropologist means that you just sit back and observe the culture you are in.
You are not trying to change anything, but just getting a feel for what is taking place.
When I see conflict brewing in a company, I speak with the person best suited to deal with the problem.
I invite them to become like an “Anthropologist”, keep their eyes and ears open, and just observe the culture of the office.
Work systems are like family systems, it is only by observing what is happening in the system that you are likely to identify when something is amiss.
For example, watching for avoidance behaviours (why are people avoiding a certain member of staff?).
Is one member over-achieving while another is underachieving, if so, what is going on? Listening quietly to the gossip (without joining in) often leads to some insight as to where the anxiety is coming from.
Watching where the finger of blame is being pointed, and listening to find out, why? Watching to see if there is a “scapegoat” person who is getting all the blame for the dysfunction, and looking to see, who the “golden child” is?
These simple observations become the starting place for gathering information and forming a plan for dealing with the problem of narcissistic abuse in the workplace.