Don’t Let Narcissists Destroy Your Company From Within

Narcissists are people who have an inflated self-esteem. Narcissists feel that they are entitled to the power, prestige, and property that go along with high social rank. Unfortunately, they lack the intelligence, the social skills, and maybe even the work ethic to earn the rank that they desire, or to handle the responsibilities that go along with that rank. In a business setting, narcissists can create problems when they are promoted to a position that is higher than they can handle.

Narcissistic middle managers can destroy a company from within. Unfortunately, narcissists may wear a convincing “mask of sanity,” especially when they are dealing with high-ranking people. For this reason, upper management may be unaware of the dangerous fools who lurk beneath them in the organization. To spot these potential troublemakers, upper management must make careful use of standard business tools, such as job descriptions, organizational charts, codes of conduct, and performance reviews.

Narcissists are ambitious people. Unfortunately, they feel that they are entitled to far more than other people feel that they deserve. Narcissists tend to be ruthlessly competitive. For a narcissist, social life and working life can be an unending series of pointless games of king of the hill. Narcissists often feel that they are competing in areas that are completely irrelevant to their job description. They want to be thought of as the pretty one, the smart one, the most talented one, etc. For this reason, a coworker whose only offense is being smart or pretty or talented or a good performer can unwittingly end up in the narcissist’s crosshairs.

Narcissists feel that they deserve a high social rank. They feel that they should rub elbows with high-status people. For this reason, they may be on their best behavior around upper management. However, narcissists expect ordinary people to submit to them. These desired displays of submission are called narcissistic supply. Unfortunately, if someone does or says anything that is less than perfectly worshipful, the narcissist may react as if that person had challenged them to a duel. This perceived challenge is called narcissistic injury. The narcissist may respond to this perceived challenge aggressively, to bully the perceived challenger into submission. This aggression is called narcissistic rage.

During their rages, narcissists often behave badly. Thus, they will often violate the company’s code of conduct. These violations can be an important sign that an employee has serious emotional problems that could be harming the company.

Narcissists tend to feel threatened by people who outshine them in some way. As a result, the narcissists’ rage tends to be directed at your best employees. If allowed to rage, the narcissists are likely to drive those top performers out of your company. You probably paid a lot of money to recruiters to find talented workers. Do not let the narcissists on your staff chase those talented people away.

Narcissism is the deadly sin of pride. As such, it is an age-old problem. Over the years, businesspeople have developed standard business tools to deal with this problem. For this reason, the best way to manage the problem of narcissism within an organization is to use standard business tools correctly.

Narcissism is a problem that arises out of disagreements over social rank. Thus, job descriptions, the organizational chart, and performance reviews are the keys to managing this problem. Too many executives view these tools as pointless rituals for the human resources staff to worry about. Yet these tools are essential for the proper functioning of any large organization. The job descriptions not only spell out what each employee is expected to do, they clarify how much latitude each employee will have in making decisions. Thus, a good job description can protect the employee from micromanagement, which is a common failing of narcissistic managers.

The organizational chart is also important. The people on each rung of the ladder should deserve their rank within the company. Ideally, the people on each level should be more capable and better qualified than the people beneath them. If your managers are incompetent, their subordinates will be in the awkward position of having to “manage up”—a situation that is likely to spark narcissistic rage.

A narcissistic manager’s mask of sanity is most likely to slip while he or she is writing performance reviews. Narcissists do not think rationally about themselves or other people. As a result, they often write performance reviews that are full of sound and fury but signify nothing. Narcissistic managers often give rosy performance reviews to people who are incompetent but submissive. In contrast, narcissists often give bad performance reviews to their most capable subordinates. In some cases, the bad performance review has no basis in reality. In others, the worker’s performance was poor because the manager had made it practically impossible for the worker to do his or her job.

To avoid this problem, many companies use some sort of 360-degree review process. Yet even the results of these multisource reviews should be analyzed carefully. Multisource reviews make it possible for employees to hold their peers and even their bosses accountable for bad behavior. Yet they also give narcissists additional opportunities to attack their rivals. For this reason, even the results of a multisource review should be evaluated with caution.

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