Surviving the Narcissist Leader
CEOs or Presidents, who attain positions of power, reach these positions for a variety of reasons. The reasons are not always a result of competency and hard work; these positions are not always earned. As a result employees find themselves under the rule of various kinds of leaders. Even those leaders that have earned their position can be impossible to work for and it's difficult to be happy and satisfied doing it. I was once asked to write an article for a magazine about the old style of autocratic leadership that was so effective in the 70's and even the 80's. I titled it B.O.S.S. this stood for Boisterous, Omnipotent, Self Indulgent, Scumbag but the magazine made me change the last S to Sociopath.
I used to work for a B.O.S.S. He was always walking around muttering "I'm the BOSS - you're nothing. I'm the BOSS you're nothing." I wanted to say, "Well, whoopee, you're the BOSS of nothing."
Presidents and CEOs are typically seen as sources of motivation and direction. But what's often overlooked is the fact that they not only motivate their management team but they receive motivation and even direction based on the responses from the employees below them.
What type of leader do you work for?
The Lead Wolf (servant) style of leadership is successful because these leaders take the time to listen, imagine and investigate numerous alternatives. With the involvement of people they forge creative solutions to difficult problems. They challenge their people to stretch, go beyond their previous boundaries and think outside the box. Successful leaders feed off their people and allow their people to feed off of them. They give credit where credit is due. They give recognition as a means of gaining respect. They believe individuals can make a difference. Through these methods they learn to create new insights and possibilities. Successful leadership means creating a sense of urgency, getting mutual commitment to action. Action steps are always clearly defined and precise.
The Lone Wolf(BOSS - Autocratic) leader at the top dominates with power. They are autocratic and intimidating. They often believe that employees are a necessary inconvenience and aren't capable of creativity and innovation. More often than not, they embrace "seat of the pants" based on intuitive judgment leadership style. This allows them maximum flexibility and "shoot from the hip responsiveness." However, today's environment demands a more stable administrative structure that requires a change in the nature of past leadership practices. Simply put, it's an evolution from a highly reactive, autocratic individualistic style to a more empowering, employee oriented proactive style.
It's about going from a "Lone Wolf" leadership style to a "Lead Wolf" leadership style that has confidence in the employee's ability to make things happen and empowers the employees to get the job done.
What About the Narcissist Leader?
The Narcissist leader is often very successful. In fact there may be a certain amount of narcissism in all of us. However, the narcissism that exists must be balanced with respect in our relationship with our employees. Excessive narcissism from a psychological standpoint is considered a personality disorder.
I personally have worked for two Narcissist CEOs during my career. Both of them were extremely vain, egotistical, conceited, selfish and paranoid. Each demonstrated one or more of those character flaws to an extreme. One actually threw a stapler at his secretary. Another had bugging devices installed in his executive team's offices. Both were believed to have Bi-Polar personalities by many although a professional diagnosis was never revealed for either.
How Do I Survive in a Narcissist Environment?
Managing your BOSS requires skill. Intelligence alone isn't enough. It requires leadership skill on your part. Excellent communication skills are a prerequisite and self confidence in your own ability is a must to support your actions. Delivering excellent results for every assignment will not only gain their confidence but can actually create a dependence on their part. They will come to rely on you to make them look good.
Continue to make suggestions, express ideas that support the CEO's personal initiatives that will bring them success and credit. This is especially helpful if they can gain the credit while you take the risk. Allow the CEO to take credit for your ideas and shoulder the blame for those that don't work out. Is this risky? Sure it is but if you want to survive or even thrive under a narcissist it's a risk worth taking. Of course, you could also just walk but that option isn't always practical.
Understand the Narcissist Ego
Managing or just surviving a Narcissist BOSS is difficult at best. Building a relationship with a Lone Wolf or Narcissist CEO is based upon an understanding of and a capacity to manage the narcissism of the CEO. This means you must establish a balance between expressing your opinions; ideas and candid remarks while utilizing your knowledge of the CEO's need to maintain his acknowledge position of power in the organization. A narcissist CEO and some Lone Wolf CEOs have an inflated sense of self. They openly demonstrate there feelings of superiority, entitlement (especially in family run businesses) and an insatiable need for attention and admiration.
Manage Your Risk
Narcissist CEOs often trust very few people. As a result they may allow their spouse to become extremely influential with regard to their leadership style. Some may even employ their spouse in the workplace. Their creation of this spousal influence and dependence can be risky for you. One Narcissist CEO I worked for was single but used his girl friend who was employed as my administrative assistant to fill this role. The risk lies not only in trying to manage that relationship if they are also employed at the company but this dependence and influence can actually isolate the CEO from his executive team because this influence generally will support his grandiose ideas. Additionally they feed his paranoia. Be conscious at all times of the following character traits:
All employees are expected to think the way he/she does
Their strategies are often dynamic but grandiose
They trust only their own insights
They can be charming, glib, accommodating but often are manipulative, deceitful, ruthless and destructive
Are Narcissist Leaders Successful?
Just as Lone Wolf autocratic leaders were very successful in the seventies and eighties many narcissist leaders can be very effective. In fact some very famous leaders are considered narcissists by some. People like Jack Welsch of General Electric, Bill Gates of Microsoft and Steve Jobs of Apple to name a few. These three CEOs are all very successful; however, they may be the exception to the rule. Look at Enron and World Com. These two companies aren't really just aberrations. Personally, I believe they represent what can happen when ineffective leadership driven by narcissism creates a cancer at the top that becomes malignant and begins to filter throughout the management regime. These leaders and many others were undeservedly worshiped when the perception of success and enormous profits disguised their real character traits and leadership model. Profit covers many sins including the sins of the CEO. It allows us to ignore physiological brainwashing, manipulation, con artistry, exploitation and abusive behavior. They are extremely insensitive to respect for employees.
There are numerous narcissist CEOs at the helm of many corporations today. The challenge of ownership, first generation founders and executive teams reporting to these CEOs is to insure that these leaders don't self destruct and lead the company into a death spiral. This becomes an extremely difficult task for all involved because a true narcissist doesn't even understand their own issues let alone the willingness to work through them. Narcissists need professional counseling to help them accept reality and recognize their limitations. Their extreme independence, paranoia and self preservation create a wall that takes a bunker busting bomb to break through.
The Lead Wolf Model of Leadership
Effective leaders must have an edge. They must be courageous enough to take risk and have an unrelenting readiness to act. Popularity is not a requirement, but the ability to generate respect from the employees is, without a doubt, one of the most critical attributes. They must be relentless in their efforts, unconcerned about personal sacrifice of their time, and willing to go beyond normal expectations. Tough decisions are commonplace; uncharted territories will be the norm. Honesty and impeccable character are musts.
Leaders get results. They make things happen. They continually advance a clear agenda, get others to buy in and move the organization to accomplish specific objectives. They are explicit, consistent, concise and sincere. They generally have an abundance of charisma although some leaders gain success with a quieter influence.
Lead Wolf leaders take charge and are not afraid of responsibility or risk. Most people want to follow them. A good leader develops openness, honesty, clarity of purpose and a sincere caring for the people they lead. They gain commitment and trust by demonstrating respect for the individual. They have a keen sense of understanding. They believe in their task, they understand the objectives, they communicate clearly and they honestly project the understanding that they need the efforts of everyone to succeed. That's the Lead Wolf model of leadership. It's all about believing in employees and their ability to create success.