Research shows there are a large number of narcissists who become leaders. If you are unlucky enough to be working for one, read on.

You may well have been fooled by your boss at the interview stage, or they have been newly appointed to be your boss. They came across as charming, capable, charismatic, confident and driven to succeed when you first met them. They seemed like the sort of person you wanted to work for.

Now, of course, you are seeing an entirely different person and wondering how you fell for this charm. You are see the dark side, their real side and it is not very nice. In fact, it is very stressful. If it is any consolation, it can be easy to be fooled by a narcissist.

Do you see some of these characteristics?

  • They demonstrate a clear lack of empathy for how others feel or what they need.
  • They often have an overly excessive focus on getting others to validate them (even small accomplishments) consistently.
  • They tend toward impulsivity and making decisions “from the hip.”
  • They may rage, pout, gossip, devalue and otherwise sulk when they do not get their way.
  • They are not great team players. They tend to get into power struggles and “I’m right, you’re wrong” discussions. They need to be right.
  • They tend to see people as being either on their side or against them.
  • They will use gossip, manipulation, charm and even seduction to get their way.
  • They will use other people and their thoughts and ideas to get ahead.
  • They are not (consciously) malicious, and they will feel ashamed (even self-hating) for their bad behaviour when it is pointed out, but then they will turn around and do the same thing without a second thought.
  • They are often highly demanding of themselves and others, which can lead to them being perfectionists and controlling, holding unreasonable expectations for others and their performance.
  • They struggle with close relationships and lack trust.
  • They are easily frustrated (and can go into a rage) if their projects, goals and needs are not getting equal or more focus than the projects, goals and needs of others.
  • They have limited leadership skills due to their excessive self-focus
  • They have an exaggerated sense of entitlement and require constant admiration.
  • They care only about their success.
  • They lack the ability to see things any other way than their own.
  • They need constant attention, admiration and lack empathy.

In short, they’re incredibly difficult to work for.

However, why are they like this?

No matter how successful these individuals become, narcissists feel deep down inside themselves as if they are not good enough. Every small error reminds them of their shortcomings. While there are genetic aspects to personality development, these individuals have typically experienced deep childhood trauma. Their trauma experience has been layered, building up over time and creating their negative self-perception. The most important thing to know about narcissists is that their behaviour and worldview is grounded in deep shame and enduring low self-esteem.

They do have some positive attributes

  • They can be incredibly rewarding and inspiring to work with.
  • They tend to speak out about a problem, whereas others will be polite and say nothing.
  • They tend to be creative and passionate about any projects they take on as “theirs.”
  • They tend to think and work outside the box, often offering amazing new and fresh ideas and concepts.
  • Their perfectionism and control (when tempered) can produce profoundly positive results within their organisations.
  • Their need for attention and validation can shine on their workplace, bringing more attention and useful notice to an organisation.
  • They can be great leaders, provided that they have people around them to provide the interpersonal functions they do not have. Mostly, they need someone in power to contain and confront them, and they also need someone to provide a buffer between them and those who might react negatively to them.
  • They work extremely well on their own, tending to be highly self-motivated.
  • If they embrace an organisation as their own, they will work tirelessly to help it succeed (as it has become a reflection of them).
  • They are often good at working with the media in PR, social media, etc.
  • Their charm, extroversion and seduction make them great sales and marketing people.
  • They are great at creating superficial relationships though not so great at personal follow-through.
  • They can use their powerful persona to shape and mould a company or work environment.

So what is your strategy (game) to survive working for a narcissist

If you have chosen to or have to work with one of these types of people as bosses, here are some strategies that might help.

  1. Look after your self-esteem
. The first thing to do is take care of yourself. After all, working for a narcissist can be a demeaning and stressful experience. You are probably in ‘survival mode’. Find something outside work brings you pleasure and gives you a sense of self-worth.
  2. Stroke their ego. You need to work out how to work effectively with them. Flattery will get you everywhere with them. They want people to love them and they will believe any compliment you offer, but be subtle. If you cannot do that, then be neutral and diplomatic. You need to be low status with them. Let them be the boss and you be subservient to them. Make them look good in front of their boss.
  3. Emulate certain characteristics
. You may not learn how to be a good boss from them, but they can teach you a lot. Distinguish between their bad behaviours and more admirable skills. Observe how they make impressions on others. Pay attention to their charisma and how eloquent they are under pressure. They are often good communicators and tend to be quite visionary. They have an ability to inspire others.
  4. Do not criticise them. The worst thing you can do is to criticise, challenge, or undermine them. If you do, get ready for an aggressive and combative reaction. They will seek revenge. If you need to make a particular business case frame your argument around what is good for your boss’s image and career. They are constantly trying to work out, “what does this mean for me?”
  5. Don’t gossip about them. Indulging in workplace gossip can be dangerous. Your boss will be paranoid and see enemies everywhere. They are constantly trying to collect information about what other people think of them.
  6. Think about leaving. Even if you successfully employ the above tactics, the chances are that working for a narcissist will take a toll on your satisfaction at work. Carefully consider whether you want to continue to work for this person. If you are otherwise engaged in your job, find the work stimulating and see the possibility of advancement within two or three years, it might be worth “the sacrifice” to stay. If you find you are working for a ‘narcissist with a destructive philosophy of domination and control’ – Get out!