How to overcome being a narcissistic leader

I work with narcissistic leaders from time to time. While narcissistic leaders are often very ambitious, driven and successful, they do not empower, promote, recognize and elevate the people around them. Instead, they tend to take the credit, seek the limelight and remain the stars of the show under all circumstances.

Here are eight typical characteristics of narcissistic leaders:

  1. 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.
  2. They take the credit for successes and blame others and circumstances for failures. They love to namedrop and they often talk about team success as “their success”. On the flip side, they avoid talking about failures and they definitely don’t like to take responsibility for the negative impact of their behaviors on others.
  3. They don’t trust and empower others very 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.
  4. They don’t communicate 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.
  5. They are erratic, inconsistent and unreliable in their reactions and behaviors. They are often late to meetings; people come on time and have to wait, sometime 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.
  6. They don’t 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.
  7. They know best and they are not very open to feedback, criticism, and coaching. They avoid conversation in which criticism could be given and they are defensive or get offended when criticism is given.
  8. They have low self-reflection abilities and self-awareness.  They come across as very tough and assertive. However, if you give them blunt negative feedback about their narcissistic nature they tend to get deeply hurt and offended.

Are you a narcissistic leader?

If you are not sure if you are a narcissistic leader, assess yourself against these eight characteristics. Even better, ask someone you trust who really knows you well and will be straight with you:

“How do people around me see and experience me?”

You may not have the most objective perspective about yourself. Other people may view you differently then you view yourself. Trying to understand their experience may be eye-opening and enlightening.

If you want to improve in this area and become a more empowering leader here are eight practical principles and tips that will help you:

  1. Be the bigger person – Give the credit to others when there are successes.
  2. Be responsible – Take the responsibility on yourself when there are failures.
  3. Be generous – Look for opportunities every day to recognize, acknowledge and praise people around you for small, medium and big things.
  4. Be respectful – Recognize people in public and criticize them in private.
  5. Be empowering– Make sure every conversation and interaction you have with others, no matter what the topic, leaves them more energized, focused and empowered.
  6. 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.
  7. Be reliable – Keep your promises, commitments, and timelines, no matter how small or big, with no excuses, just like you expect others to do.
  8. Be a role model – Model everything you want others to do, and treat others exactly the way you want them to treat you.

Founder and President of Quantum Performance Inc., a management consulting firm specializing in generating total alignment and engagement in organizations.

His work has encompassed a broad range of industries including banking, telecommunications, manufacturing, entertainment, real estate, retail, startups and non-profits.

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