If you can spell narcissism, then you have made a study of it somewhere along the way. Possibly trying to figure out how to work successfully with a narcissistic colleague or boss…
[Hard topic for a Monday morning but you will have a sweet story at the end.]
Many years ago, in nursing school, the term narcissistic personality disorder came to my awareness during our coursework on mental health. It is defined as “a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”
Someone can be narcissistic in temperament and behavior without having a full-on personality disorder.
The experience of having a narcissistic boss or coworker is not mine personally. In fact, this dark topic isn’t one I’d prefer to cover…except for an interesting happenstance this past week. So…here we go.
McManus (starting at minute 35 in the podcast) talks about the high incidence of narcissism in top-tier leaders (CEOs, etc). His focus is on megachurch pastors and the battle against pride. His observations were spot-on in many ways. “Humility is best-expressed in a willingness to decentralize power. The more decisions you make, the less humble you are. You can never know you are humble; you can know if you do humble things.”
In Nieuwhof’s shownotes, he highlighted these points by McManus:
A Narcissist has:
A high need for praise because the world needs to be about him.
A view that there is no one in the world who can do something better than she can.
A Narcissist doesn’t:
Ask for help because he doesn’t believe anyone else could ever solve a problem that he can’t solve.
Take risks because if she fails it will completely violate her identity.
Accept responsibility for failure, because in his mind the failure was someone else’s fault.
McManus’ take on narcissism was so insightful, I did something rare – publishing a comment on the podcast. Somehow that comment, commending Carey for such an insightful interview on narcissism, got swallowed up in other comments on how hurtful their associations with Mr. McManus had been. Where my original comment went is a mystery, but as others commented, bouncing off my own, I was drawn into their pain.
Whether or not Mr. McManus struggles himself with narcissism is not the focal point here. As I listened to the podcast again, he never denies his own particular bent. I don’t know him so I can’t say. As a successful mega-church pastor, he, like others, has had his critics (covered in another Nieuwhof podcast).
What is clear, in this interview and the comments below, is the huge emotional cost to those who come under such a leader.
Leadership coach Lolly Daskal has written an empowering piece for those who work for a narcissistic boss. Daskal poses two options for those employees – either quit or “stay and deal”. Here’s how to stay, in 10 points of action, according to Daskal:
- Understand the source – Quite probably your boss is not going to improve. You have to start with that understanding.
- Respond, don’t react. Don’t allow yourself to be drawn into a conflict. The narcissistic boss has skills on how to stay on top of any situation. Learn to respond in a way that “keeps you in control of options and choices. If you feel yourself reacting, step away and regain back your control.”
- Set clear boundaries. These are for your own benefit. They are a reminder to you of what is right and reasonable in terms of your own operations. Boundaries are essential. You set them for yourself.
- Don’t allow them to get under your skin. “Use emotional intelligence to manage your thoughts and actions…remember that any cruel behavior and words reflect badly on the narcissist, not you.”
- Don’t feed the beast. “The more you feed the bad behavior the worse it will become. Narcissists surround themselves with only two types of people: those who enable them and those who bite their tongue. Anyone who doesn’t fit into one of these two categories will certainly be fired or banished.”
- Don’t empower those who don’t deserve it. “Refuse to follow those you don’t admire, those you don’t trust, and those who lie. Just do your job to the best of your ability and with respect, honor and integrity.”
- Fact check everything. Wisdom is to always confirm the facts… especially as far as your work and your work relationships are concerned. No matter what your boss tells you about a situation or a coworker or other work team, as much as you can, be sure you have the facts…before you go too far in your own assessment or putting together a solution.
- Don’t argue. “The last thing you want to do is argue with a narcissist, because everything you say and do will be held against you. Don’t argue or engage but instead make them invisible–the last thing a narcissist wants.”
- Don’t be provoked. Keep your cool. Stay calm.
- Stay focused on what’s important. “Working with a narcissist boss means a constant pull to play by their rules and for everything to revolve around them, with no accountability or responsibility when things go wrong. It’s easy to feel angry and frustrated. That’s when you have to take a step back and reconnect with your purpose in being there.” – Lolly Daskal
As a writer, topics can almost force themselves to be written. I wrestled with this one because maybe it isn’t relevant to most of you….which would be a very good thing. Unfortunately, this topic wouldn’t let go. Then last night, I came across a piece written sometime ago by Joni Eareckson Tada, an advocate worldwide for persons with disabilities. At 17, she became a quadriplegic after a diving accident. That was over 50 years ago.Photo Credit: CBN News
This incredibly gifted and giving woman is the epitome of a person without a bent toward narcissism. She ever points to God and others … empowers others…gives others a voice. She has an accurate understanding of herself, honest about her strengths, weaknesses, and limits. She is diligent and determined to have a positive impact on the lives of those around her.*
[*See article by Carey Nieuwhof below.]
If you’re struggling with figuring out how to thrive under a narcissistic boss, either get out or figure it out. Lolly Daskal’s advice and that of others can help…as well as the refreshing stories of folks like Joni. The light of a life well-lived, no matter the circumstance, can break through any dark place we find ourselves. We can all aim for a life well-lived whatever our work situation, for sure.
“If I were to nail down suffering’s main purpose, I’d say it’s the textbook that teaches me who I really am.” – Joni Eareckson Tada
Whatever our struggle with a difficult boss, we can take that struggle and let it shine a light on our own issues; our own bent and character. If you feel blocked at work somehow, you can respond in bitterness or betterment. You can take heart that learning what being blocked does to your heart and mindset moves you to an understanding of how to grow in ways that no one can block.
Joni’s Favorite Quotes on Suffering (We would do well to make copies of these and put them at eye-level at our work stations. Perspective.)