Recently a friend asked me how to tell the difference between a boss that is a bit full of themselves, and one that is a full-on narcissist.
Her question triggered a flurry of memories. I have had my share of “bad” or “toxic” bosses that were full of themselves. In my experience, they cause work to be a constant grey cloud of stress and made their employees' lives more difficult.
Yet after working with several bosses that were beyond toxic, I can attest that there is nothing quite as emotionally draining and frustrating as dealing with a narcissistic boss.
A narcissistic leader can affect the moods and feelings of everyone they interact with and because they are in charge, no one wants to stand up to them and anyone who tries will normally not survive their wrath.
If you believe your work environment is toxic and believe it is coming from your boss, here are four behaviors that indicate they may be a narcissist.
#1. They ignore feedback/advice that doesn’t align with their reality
Recently I worked for a company that had a CEO who hired numerous executives that had worked at huge corporations before coming to his start-up.
The new executives told the CEO time and time again that there were issues with the product he had created and advised that he begin putting more resources into it, and listening to his customers. Although they warned him that the company was beginning to lose money the CEO denied their claims and said that everything was going perfectly.
Then one day, the CEO actually looked at the numbers and realized that it was true, his company was in trouble. He acted as if he had never heard the feedback/advice from his executive team and told them that they had a problem that they needed to fix. Although he had been told time and time again what would happen, it didn’t align with his reality at the time so he decided to ignore it until it was almost too late.
#2. They will make completely unrealistic requests and there are no excuses
In the movie "The Devil Wears Prada" there is a scene where Meryl Street’s character asks Anne Hathaway to go get the unpublished Harry Potter manuscript for her children and that if she is unable to fulfill the request… she shouldn’t bother coming back to work.
When I was watching that scene when I was younger I believed it was so ridiculous because no boss would ever make such an outlandish request.
Then I had a woman boss who displayed narcissistic tendencies. At one point she told me that I needed to have 175 customer meetings before the week was over even though it was Thursday evening. When I was unable to meet her request she took it out on me, even though she knew that there was no way I could execute her demands.
Yet even though the requests were outlandish, there were no excuses. It is impossible to fight with someone that believes their own lie so all I could think to do at the time was apologize.
#3. They will lie and blame others to make themselves look good
Ultimately you would hope that the leader of a company would recognize that their decisions have a downstream effect.
Yet a narcissistic boss doesn’t believe that. They know that if needed, there is almost always someone else to blame when things aren’t going their way.
When I worked for a narcissistic CEO and issues arose, it was always the fault of another executive or a different team. Then, he would spin the narrative to make himself the victim and even lied to put financial numbers in his favor for investors.
There were also numerous teams and employees fired for no apparent reason and when we pried further internally we were told that they “didn’t get along” with the CEO. We quickly realized that we would become a target if we spoke up so we opted to agree with any requests made by the CEO even if they were completely outlandish.
#4. They love to hear themselves speak
There is a reason why narcissists are drawn to leadership roles within a company or organization.
Many narcissistic managers love to be the center of attention and do so by dominating meetings, presentations, phone conferences, and email discussions.
When you are a leader of people you are often given the opportunity to spearhead meetings and give presentations. A good leader will want to allow other employees to contribute and offer feedback in order to help drive change and results within a company.
A narcissistic leader, on the other hand, will constantly dominate the entire conversation and usually interrupt anyone who tries to give any input.
You have to protect yourself if you are in this situation
The reality is that your feelings don’t matter to a narcissistic boss because they lack any real empathy towards their employees.
It’s important to have a game plan if you know that this is at least a semi-permanent situation to keep your sanity because working for a narcissist is extremely stressful.
Guard your feelings in order to keep yourself in a good place emotionally as you will basically be in a mode of self-survival. Set clear boundaries and remember that you need to take care of yourself first.
Working for a narcissist can often be difficult and exhausting, but if you protect yourself and learn how to navigate these tricky waters it will be a lesson you will never forget and has the potential to make you even stronger.