Some of the best leaders can be the most confident and boldest risk-takers in the business. They hold their heads up high and make decisions that may shock others. But while these leaders are often considered self-assured, we may have to peer deeper into some of them (not all of them, of course) and ask: Are they narcissists?
This is not to say that all leaders who are confident and self-assured are narcissists. But for some, it may be a front for it. A charismatic leader knows when to admit fault and looks to correct themselves for the betterment of their business. But a narcissist will not take criticism well and possesses an inflated sense of self and ego.
Even if they do run a tight ship with their confidence and risk-taking, there’s always a dark side to them. Still, business narcissists, with their high self-worth, can contribute a lot and become extremely successful.
The important question is: Are you a narcissist?
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th edition (DSM-5), Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is defined as an affliction which exists in a spectrum. This means that narcissism can span from mild cases to extremes. It’s a feeling of an over-inflated sense of self, constant need for validation and admiration, the feeling of being special and only engaging with those who are equally as special, and a lack of empathy, to name a few.
Many people develop narcissistic tendencies over time, but others live in extremes, to the point of developing NPD.
Narcissists will likely be self-employed as they want that sense of grandiosity to be gratified instantly. They want attention and adoration and being at the forefront of a business can grant them that.
In a business context, they can be extremely successful. But this is often a double-edged sword. Most of the time, they run businesses for themselves rather than for a bigger goal. And they don’t believe they need to improve because they already believe that they’re the best at what they do.They crave being praised but hate criticism, even if it’s to better their business.
There are certain giveaways that you’re a narcissist (or you’re working with one) and they are traits you don’t want and need to work hard to eradicate if they are present in how you behave.
You believe that you do everything right and will reject any kind of feedback, even if it’s constructive. You already feel that you’re running things perfectly and any criticism that comes your way is unfair and irrelevant. If you lash out or ignore anyone who tries to better your business with insight, this is a telltale sign.
Receiving criticism is difficult for you and you view these as attacks and become very defensive of your way of doing things. Your bloated sense of self will refuse any kind of constructive or destructive feedback and you’ll fall back on what you think is the right course to take.
Being unable to put yourself in another person’s shoes and see things from their perspective is another sign. Because you’re so absorbed with your own feelings and how you perceive yourself, you cannot undertake the load of trying to understand someone else’s situation.
This can lead to team burnout as they don’t feel heard or understood. You have little to no emotional intelligence to handle your employees and they can be anxious and even leave the company altogether. You will demand that your employees get the work done regardless, favouring their skill over attitude and anything else.
Narcissist entrepreneurs, with your inflated ego, strut about and believe they do everything right. You believe you’re never wrong and that only contributes to the grandiose sense of self you have. Because of this, you believe your competence will be enough to run the business and take risks you believe have a 0% chance of failure.
You may be more prone to craving affirmation than confidence that doesn’t need that constant approval. A deep-rooted insecurity also drives narcissism, causing them to exploit others rather than inspire them, like confidence does.
A narcissist will never question themselves because they believe they’re never wrong—other people are. If you find yourself thinking this way, believing that someone else is always at fault when something was clearly your error, you may be a narcissist.
Even in terms of dealing with experts, you believe you know more than these veterans in their field. You find the audacity to interject, refuse to listen, and instead just wait for your turn to speak instead of absorbing the information being given to you. Narcissists are impossible to debate with as you’re cemented in your beliefs.
You may believe you have the know-how to teach others because of your bloated sense of self and ideas that you’re the most knowledgeable in your business, but that doesn’t necessarily make you a good mentor. Your goal is not to impart knowledge, but to create someone just like you because you think you’re always right, and therefore this person should be like you.
Instead of teaching, you impose a certain pattern of behaviour that you follow and that they should, too. You can’t empathise with them and so you just urge them to do things the way you do them.
A narcissist can easily turn to manipulation, operating with less integrity, and more distrust in the long term. This will definitely negatively affect a business as the team will become unhappy, efficiency will drop, and staff turnover will quicken. You may also let go of people who challenge you, underscoring your need to be the most brilliant part of the business.
There are some exceptions to these rules like Steve Jobs, who was notorious for having narcissistic tendencies. He was often called ruthless in his work and didn’t always empathise with the people around him. But he turned it around and found a little bit of humility, proving it’s possible to change.
But others have brought their companies down because of their narcissistic tendencies. Take Marissa Mayers, for example, the former CEO of Yahoo. Because of her inflated sense of self and dismissiveness, she was inconsiderate with her team and lacked empathy, which impacted the company.
If you recognise your narcissism, you can now turn to your business and how it’s being affected. It may be a difficult process to overcome your tendencies, but once you can pinpoint them, you’ll be able to take action. Maybe your business is suffering in terms of team burnout or a lack of feedback you want to accept, you need to see this in order to change it.
As a business coach, I would advise you to turn to personal development, to look towards yourself and acknowledge your faults and weaknesses as a narcissist. Being a good leader is more important than being a narcissistic boss.
Consulting your team about your faults can also be a great way to gain insight into your behaviour and it opens up dialogue between you and your employees. Doing this is humbling as it shows you are open to admitting fault. Reassure them that it wasn’t all just in their heads and that you played a big role in making them think it was their fault.
Lastly, seeking psychological help is nothing to be ashamed of. Unlearning tendencies that you’ve grown with all your life can be taxing to do on your own. So enlisting the help of a professional can make all the difference.
Narcissists can be prevalent in business and you may be one yourself. But confronting yourself with these questions and understanding the signs that might indicate narcissism you can overcome it and become a better leader. It’s not impossible—and it’s vital for long-term success.
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