According to Greek mythology, Narcissus was a young man who loved no one. The gods made him fall in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. And since he could not embrace this watery image, he moped and brooded and pined away. Eventually he was transformed into a flower, a narcissus or daffodil.
The personality disorder known as narcissism is perhaps the most durable and consistent pathological condition among the ranks of managers today. It is characterized by self-centeredness, self-interest, manipulativeness and a lack of empathy. While individuals with this condition often achieve high corporate positions, their lives are not very satisfying.
Narcissism is a disorder of self-esteem, self-confidence and self-worth.
Ironically, narcissistic managers often don’t understand that they have little authentic self-esteem. They compensate for this lack by creating a false front: an inflated, somewhat pretentious, grandiose self-image. Many of them conduct themselves (or picture themselves) as if they are the most important and valuable people in their own sphere of influence on the job. And they insist that everyone ought to recognize their privileged place. Ironically, many narcissistic managers show little ability outside their fantasy lives. Those who do enjoy natural ability often squander and lose sight of their objectives—their goals becomes success and achievement for their own sake.
These managers often cause their own disintegration on the job because their arrogance and conceit blind their judgment. They may even create scandals that humiliate and undo them in the process. On the other hand, they can be quite charming. They can mesmerize and convince others of their special abilities. Those who do have these abilities are often tolerated as “gifted but difficult” people.
Narcissistic managers do not stomach criticism. Some react inwardly with distressing hurt and mortification that far outweigh the actual critique. Others react with out-of-place rage, even tantrums, and in the process manipulate others to acquiesce to their demands. The obsessive-compulsive manager that I addressed last month will bend over backwards to get back into the criticizer’s good graces. Narcissistic managers, on the other hand, will go for the jugular.
Narcissistic managers fail to empathize with others. They form few relationships because they treat others as objects to fortify their own self-esteem. Narcissistic managers manipulate others to appreciate and admire them at all times. While they work to accomplish commendable successes, they are obsessed with feelings of resentment. As a consequence, they are miserable most of the time and get little gratification.
It is up to you to avoid clashes with narcissistic people. A change in your own responses will promote better behavior from them.