It’s never a pleasant feeling when every day at work feels like an elaborate waltz around the boss’ gargantuan ego. It may seem like it’s a necessary evil at times, especially if such bosses also consistently churn out stellar results. When pure ego crosses the razor thin line into narcissism, though, the damage to long-term employee growth can be far more deadly than the benefits.
It’s not just that narcissistic bosses are hard to put up with. It’s that they often behave in ways that consciously and unconsciously undermine employees’ performance. In the long run, these are the would-be leaders who end up being more destructive to growth than anything else. Here’s why.
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As Steve Jobs once said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” Narcissistic bosses, though, tend to do the exact opposite of this.
They‘re extremely concerned with creating and upholding an image of effortless genius. It’s therefore not uncommon for them to strive to maintain a fixed-mindset self-image of infallibility.
In such mindsets, they tend to be highly resistant to criticism, feedback, and change in general. Narcissistic leaders, though, can take it to a whole new level, often insisting that they’re always right and behaving in ways that curtail employee autonomy, agency, ownership and engagement at work.
To make matters worse, narcissistic leaders also often tend to feel threatened by others’ successes. In their minds, others’ successes subtract from their own chances at successes—even when they’re working together.
For that reason, when their people succeed, narcissistic leaders interpret it as a consequence of good leadership. When the team fails, though, they heap all the blame on them and leave none for themselves.
Clearly, such attitudes are grating upon the employees. Not only does it undermine psychological safety and trust in the employer-employee relationship, but it’s also a recipe for plummeting employee satisfaction and engagement.
More importantly, though, practicing such rigid fixed mindsets often causes a ripple effect amongst employees. When the leader constantly sends the message that success and failure come down to innate genius more so than effort, people tend to echo the same sentiments. As a result, they stunt their own long-term growth.
Employee recognition is a critical component of motivation. In fact, research has shown that ignoring people’s work is almost as bad as tearing their work up in front of them. Narcissistic leaders, however, tend not to see or feel the need to thank and express gratitude to their employees; in their minds, it should always be the other way around.
When people feel under-appreciated and undervalued, not only are they less motivated to perform at work. They’re also more likely to leave soon in search of greener pastures (and greater bosses.)
Since they’re so unreceptive to feedback, narcissistic leaders tend to be much more partial towards relatively autocratic leadership styles. They prefer keeping communication channels closed and formal, and see little to no value in practicing open door policies. Even when they do, they tend to be bad listeners, for the simple reason that they simply don’t think anyone besides themselves has much of value to say.
Failing to listen to employees’ is a huge leadership mistake. Making people feel unvalued, under-appreciated, and neglected will reduce their sense of ownership over their work and gradually erode long-term engagement levels.
In times of difficulty, narcissistic leaders often respond in self-serving ways, massively damaging the employer-employee relationship. Indeed, they don’t just play the victim card; they monopolise it, claiming themselves to be the tragic hero while painting everyone else as victims.
Finger-pointing, however, serves very little purpose in times of strife, and only aggravates the process of conflict resolution. Such behaviour is intolerable in leaders, who are, by definition, responsible for those under their care.