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The Narcissistic Leader


One day a CEO asked one of his direct reports to interview his team of managers and to provide a report on their feedback. During the meeting to discuss the report the CEO asked:


“So what do they think of me?”


The direct report replied “They think you are very creative and courageous,” “but they also feel that you don’t listen.”


“Excuse me, what did you say?” the CEO shot back at once, pretending not to hear.


His response was humorous, but it was also tragic because this CEO defensive stands shows one of the glaring traits of a Narcissistic Leader.


Narcissistic leadership is a leadership style in which the leader is only interested in him/herself. Their priority is themselves and only themselves; this type of leader exhibits the characteristics of a great leader because they are perceived as effective by many due to their displays of authority; but while narcissists may look like good leaders, according to a new study by a group of psychology researchers from the University of Amsterdam, they’re actually really bad at leading since company morale often declines, and employees often leave the company due to their toxic behavior.


Writing in the Harvard Business Review Michael Maccoby identified 5 weaknesses of a narcissistic leader which I want to highlight in this article. Look closely at the signs to determine if you exhibit any of these characteristics or if you are working with a Narcissistic leader because these type of leaders often masked their real agendas behind the guise of genuine concern for their team.


Sensitive to Criticism.


Because they are extraordinarily sensitive, narcissistic leaders shun emotions as a whole. Indeed, perhaps one of the greatest paradoxes in this age of teamwork and partnering is that the best corporate leader in the contemporary world is the type of person who is emotionally isolated. Narcissistic leaders typically keep others at arm’s length. They can put up a wall of defense as thick as the Pentagon. And given their difficulty with knowing or acknowledging their own feelings, they are uncomfortable with other people expressing theirs—especially their negative feelings.


Poor Listeners.


One serious consequence of this over-sensitivity to criticism is that narcissistic leaders often do not listen especially when they feel threatened or attacked. Some narcissists are so defensive that they go so far as to make a virtue of the fact that they don’t listen. As one CEO bluntly put it, “I didn’t get here by listening to people!”


Lack of Empathy.


Best-selling business writers today have taken up the slogan of “emotional competencies”—the belief that successful leadership requires a strongly developed sense of empathy. But although they crave empathy from others, narcissists are not noted for being particularly empathetic themselves.


Distaste for Mentoring.


Lack of empathy and extreme independence make it difficult for narcissists to mentor and be mentored. They seldom mentor others, and when they do they typically want their protégés to be pale reflections of themselves.


An Intense Desire to Compete.


Narcissistic leaders are relentless and ruthless in their pursuit of victory. Games are not games but tests of their survival skills. Of course, all successful managers want to win, but narcissists are not restrained by conscience. Organizations led by narcissists are generally characterized by intense internal competition. Their passion to win is marked by both the promise of glory and the primitive danger of extinction.


The narcissistic leader wants all their subordinates to think the way they think about business; they are good at converting people to their point of view with the aim of controlling the narrative. Although some may think that a narcissistic leader is very productive because they get the job done especially during major change; it comes at the expense of employee development, great organizational culture, teamwork, employees morale, and inspirational leadership.


Narcissists leaders are masterful impression makers, largely due to their intense self-obsession and self-adulation. They take credit for successes and blame others for failures “through a mix of shameless self-promotion and guilt-free, Machiavellian agenda. They listen only for the kind of information they seek, they don’t learn easily from others and they don’t like to teach but prefer to indoctrinate and make speeches. A narcissists leader has only one concern themselves and their only motive is to ensure they become successful even if it means at the expense of everyone else.

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About Gifford Thomas



I am the founder of Leadership First and the author of The Inspirational Leader, Inspire Your Team To Believe In The Impossible. At Leadership First, we are committed to publishing the very best inspirational leadership quotes and articles to inspire our 270,000+ community of leaders to believe in the impossible, while creating an environment free from toxic, fearful and intimidating leadership. We believe everyone can and should enjoy their work, but it must start with the leadership leading by example. Follow our community of leaders HERE, and let's change the leadership status quo to help inspire and motivate our leaders to make a difference and create an organization their people will love.


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