Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The tyranny of toxic managers

Narcissistic managers are toxic managers

Preoccupied with their own importance, narcissistic managers are grandiose and arrogant. They devalue others, lack empathy for others and have little, if any, conscience. Feeling exempt from the normal rules of society, they exploit people without remorse.

Narcissistic individuals are also very sensitive to anything that threatens their self-esteem. Challenges to their grandiose self image can lead to narcissistic rage that sees them lose all judgment and attack in ways that are destructive to themselves and their victims.

Arrogant with peers and subordinates, they may suddenly become submissive in the presence of a superior. Once the superior has left, they may well disparage her. They generally deprecate and exploit others, including former idols. They may, however, idealize powerful individuals who support them, though only for a short time.

Under the surface, narcissistic managers struggle with fragile self-esteem. They also have a sense of emptiness arising from their lack of true self-love and inability to care about other people or about abstract values such as honesty and integrity. Their grandiose fantasies are attempts to fill the emptiness and reinforce their fragile self-esteem.

The classic narcissistic manager is grandiose. Grandiose managers are legends in their own minds. Preoccupied with their exaggerated accomplishments and grandiose expectations for the future, they expect others to hold them in awe. Constantly boasting, they resemble peacocks strutting around with their tail feathers unfurled.

Some narcissistic managers are not effusive about their abilities and accomplishments. What stands out about them is a willingness to exploit others, a willingness to break the law, or a desire to control and dominate others.

Narcissistic managers are less likely to make major changes in their behaviour than are managers with other issues. They are also particularly likely to become outraged and vindictive if someone challenges their behaviour. Therefore, when you are dealing with a manager who is rigid or aggressive, it is important to know whether narcissism or other disorders lie underneath their destructive behaviour.

A milder variant of narcissistic managers are those with learned narcissism. They are not desperately trying to hide and shield fragile self-esteem arising from a troubled childhood. Rather, their success in some area has brought sufficient fame and fortune that they have been shielded from the normal consequences of behaving arrogantly and treating others poorly. Moreover, as people incessantly flatter them, they come to believe the glorifying compliments. Although somewhat grandiose and inconsiderate of others, these people have a conscience and can feel empathy for others; they simply do not realize the full impact of their behavior on others. People with learned narcissism are far more amenable to change than are those with narcissism resulting from problems early on in emotional development.

Coping with a narcissistic manager is very difficult for most people. You can't make it a fun experience, but there are things you can do to make yourself less vulnerable to them.

Superiors of narcissistic managers also need to be careful. If you supervise a narcissistic manager you should:

• Watch your back

• Don't ignore signs of trouble

• Don't believe them over their subordinates

• Assess if the narcissism is learned or from early development and if it can be modified with the help of a therapist/coach

• Get coaching for them

• Get 360 feedback on them and use it as a major part of their assessment

Roy Lubit