I was speaking to a senior executive of a global technology company about leadership. During our conversation, he made an intriguing declaration: “I’d rather be a dwarf that manages giants, than a giant that manages dwarfs”.
It was obvious to me that he was referring to the difference between narcissistic leaders who always take the credit, seek the limelight and who remain the stars of the show under all circumstances, versus leaders who view their role as an opportunity to empower, promote, recognize and elevate the people around them.
I liked the senior executive’s proclamation because it was powerful, simple, catchy and relevant to many leaders and executives. I have come across and worked with many narcissistic leaders. While every leader is different, there are similarities among them.
Here are a few examples:
- They always have to be “the star”.
They don’t like to share the limelight, elevate others and overall enable others around them to become too powerful, influential or great. In fact, they seem to be threatened by others shining and they get quite upset when others play too much of a dominant role.
- They don’t trust and empower others very naturally or effectively.
When there are challenges, their first reaction is often to step in and take control, rather than trust and delegate. They tend to divide and conquer, rather than build a cohesive team to rely on.
- They don’t communicate very clearly and directly, especially around uncomfortable topics.
They shy away from conflict or having straight conversations. They don’t bring clarity and closure to issues. When they are frustrated with someone they tend to engage in back channel talk, rather than face the issues head-on. And, often, when they believe that they have communicated clearly and directly regarding an uncomfortable topic, those with whom they have communicated were left confused, uncertain and with a different message.
- They are erratic, inconsistent and unreliable in their reactions and behaviors.
They are often late to meetings; everyone else arrives on time and have to wait, sometimes for hours. They constantly make last-minute unannounced changes to schedule and meetings with no apparent regard for the impact on others. And, they often make decisions that have a significant impact on others out of impulse and emotion, which they later regret and reverse.
- They don’t really create a genuine and effective environment of accountability.
They preach accountability, say all the right slogans but they don’t establish clear and specific objectives and expectations with their people. They also don’t manage and hold people to account for their commitments and deliverables.
- They know best and are not very open to feedback, criticism, and coaching.
They avoid conversation in which criticism could be forthcoming and they are defensive when criticism is given.
- They blame others and circumstances for failures, and take the credit for all successes.
In fact, they love to talk about their own successes, but they avoid talking about failures and they definitely don’t like to take responsibility for the negative impact of their behaviors on others.
If you are not sure if you are a narcissistic leader, assess yourself against these seven characteristics. Or even better, ask yourself:
“How do people around me see and experience me?”
Other people may view you differently than you view yourself. Try to understand their experience – you may find it eye-opening and enlightening.
If you want to improve in this area and become a more empowering leader here are a few practical principles and tips that may be of help:
- Be a big person – Give the credit to others when there are successes.
- Be responsible – Take the responsibility on yourself when there are failures.
- Be generous – Recognize, acknowledge and praise people around you every day.
- Be respectful – Recognize people in public and criticize them in private.
- Be empowering– Make sure every conversation and interaction you have with others, no matter what the topic, leaves them more energized, focused and empowered.
- Be trusting – Make sure your people have clear objectives and expectations that they own and then let them implement their objectives in their own way.
- Be reliable – Keep your promises, commitments and timelines, no matter how small or big, with no excuses, just like you expect others to do.
- Be a role model – Model everything you want others to do, and treat others exactly the way you want them to treat you.