Good leaders are people who are able to inspire their followers with their charisma and vision. They are then able to follow through on their vision by putting in the work to make it a reality. Narcissists can certainly be charismatic, particularly in the beginning stages of a relationship, but they don’t really make good leaders. That’s in part because good leadership involves more than just charisma, but also because of the specific characteristics of the narcissist.
While narcissists can often rise to leadership positions, it’s at the cost of their followers. They exploit the people they lead until they become emotionally exhausted and discouraged. The narcissist may continue to lead, but their internal shame and self-loathing sabotage their performance.
Because a narcissist is focused on the image they project, they can work hard to do well in their profession. The problem is that they are not focused on the job they’re doing, they’re focused on projecting the image of a successful business or political leader. It seems like a subtle difference, but it’s an important one and part of why narcissists are not good leaders. Read on to learn exactly why this distinction is so important.
Why Narcissists Make Bad Leaders
Narcissists are focused on their need for a steady flow of adoration. They need this because they failed to develop a strong sense of self in childhood, and in place of a true self, they constructed a false self-image. Their false self-image can’t support their damaged self-esteem, however, and that’s why they need adoration from other people.
They are using the people in their life to prop up their grandiose sense of self. Moreover, everything they do is designed to help them project the image they have created in their mind. They have told themselves since childhood they are the best, they are entitled, and they are superior to other people.
To get people to feed them that adoration, they engage in numerous manipulative tactics. Their self-esteem is also extremely fragile, and they will do almost anything to avoid being blamed for mistakes. Toward that end, they will pass the blame onto coworkers when something goes wrong.
Narcissists will also take credit for things they didn’t do. The combination of blaming others for mistakes they made and taking credit for their work is part of what exhausts the people they work with who are also trying to further their careers.
Much like people in the narcissist’s personal life, coworkers are often surprised at just how quickly a narcissist will turn on them. They may have believed the narcissist was a supportive leader who ‘had their back,’ but they soon find out just how quickly that can change.
Similar to a personal relationship, coworkers feel a sense of betrayal that leaves them confused and discouraged. Moreover, the way a narcissist turns on them often makes it difficult for them to defend themselves. For this reason, many coworkers will change to a different department or even leave the company altogether.
What Good Leadership Qualities do Narcissists Have?
When you first encounter a narcissist, you will likely think they are very charming. They seem genuinely interested in you and your problems, and they say things that make you think they would be good at crisis management. This can work well for political leaders and client relations.
These characteristics are typical of good leaders in general. You want to believe that someone in charge cares about people and has a vision for how to help them. Good leaders often also have a high degree of narcissistic grandiosity. That can work to drive them to get the job done.
In fact, research shows that leaders who have high levels of grandiosity can rise to the top of their organizations. Unfortunately, characteristics of pathological narcissism include low levels of integrity, a sense of entitlement, a lack of interest in developing genuine personal relationships, and a tendency toward strong emotional reactivity.
Still, the strong desire of a narcissist to ensure that everyone believes they are a great leader means they typically work very hard to be successful. They will work long hours, and often, their grandiose sense of superiority can seem to people who don’t know them well as confidence. It might even be inspiring.
Many business and political ventures require a degree of boldness from leaders, and often, that can work to the benefit of the company or entity the narcissist leads. Their perceived boldness, however, often turns out to be nothing more than impulsive behavior. It’s bold when it works, but many times, it doesn’t work.
What are the Bad Leadership Qualities of a Narcissist?
Narcissists also have many bad leadership qualities. When mistakes are made, the narcissist will shift the blame to someone else, usually someone they supervise. When things go well, they will take credit for things they didn’t do. This is demoralizing for anyone they supervise since it’s hard to speak up against that.
Narcissists also lack integrity because they are singularly focused on their own aggrandizement. They will lie without compunction, and they have no fear of breaking rules. They also don’t listen to anyone who might disagree with them while rewarding sycophants.
If they are confronted or questioned about anything they have done, they will often fly into a rage, which can create a toxic work environment. It can be very difficult for anyone working with a narcissist to advance their own career. The narcissist sees anyone who comes up with a good idea as competition, and they will either devalue them or take credit for their idea.
Finally, if a narcissist is a bad leader, they can actually destroy the company or country they are leading. They leave behind a toxic legacy of distrust and cynicism. Even after they are gone, it can be difficult to recover from the effects of their leadership.
Do Some Employees Benefit Under the Leadership of a Narcissist?
There are some employees who unconditionally support the narcissist who may benefit from their leadership. Not surprisingly, many of these people may themselves have personalities that are higher in narcissistic tendencies.
Moreover, despite the focus on self-aggrandizement, the narcissist with talent has a strong desire to achieve their goals. While they push their followers or employees too hard and almost never praise them, they strive to do what needs to be done.
When this works, their coworkers and the organization or entity they lead can benefit. The problem is that the narcissist will give no one else credit but themselves. If they can’t take credit for something an underling did, they will claim that it was their leadership that enabled that person to do whatever good they did.
Another problem is that despite their success and any praise they may receive as a result, it will never be enough for the narcissist. That might give them the drive to go on to the next goal, but that might come at the cost of a toxic work environment.
How Can Narcissists Destroy an Organization?
A narcissist can seem like someone who is going to make positive changes in an organization. They are excellent at promoting themselves and often come off very good in a job interview. That’s part of why they can rise to the top, but when they get into power, their true colors begin to show through.
While it is true that some narcissistic leaders really do great things – for example, Steve Jobs – that success often comes at the cost of the employees they lead. But for those that don’t have any talent or skills, many of the characteristics they brag about become liabilities.
To the outsider, a narcissist may seem to be driven by a larger purpose, and for employees or other followers who really do care about that larger purpose, this is inspirational. As with their personal relationships, however, the allure of the narcissistic leader usually diminishes over time.
Narcissistic leaders tend to sow a lot of discord within an organization. They lack the capacity for empathy, so they have no problem exploiting the people they are in charge of leading. They routinely devalue anyone around them who tries to give them advice or come up with new ideas.
If someone is successful at getting their idea recognized, the narcissist will either take credit for the idea itself or for providing the mentorship that allowed the other employee to do so. Because of this, even if they are good at getting the job done, they create a toxic work environment. Once a narcissist creates that toxic workplace, it’s very difficult for an organization to change it. It often requires completely restructuring the organization to create a new work environment.
While there are some narcissistic qualities that may be good in a leader, the drawbacks most often outweigh any benefits. They breed toxicity and demoralize the people who are under their control. Even good narcissistic leaders can leave significant damage in their wake, and can, in fact, destroy an organization.
If you think you’ve got a narcissistic boss, you need to read this article. It gives you some great information about how to recognize narcissism in a leader.
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