It took several committee meetings for Jill to put together a thorough proposal for the management of a new department. She did the work under the presumption that her narcissistic boss would be open to suggestions and recommendations from the committee. But even given that liberty, Jill carefully still sought out opinions from those outside the committee and department to ensure that the most accurate information was gathered and properly processed.
She had achieved unanimous agreement from the committee on how to proceed, something that was unheard of in the past. Not wanting her boss to be caught off guard during the proposal meeting with the committee, she messaged a preview of their progress privately to her boss. Just before the meeting began, she was ecstatic at the opportunity to effect real change in the company.
As they sat around the conference table, the boss quickly took control of the meeting and did not allow Jill or the committee to present their proposal. Instead, a barrage of reasons as to why their results were inaccurate was given. This was followed by cutting remarks directed towards each of the committee members including Jill for their personal shortcomings in matters unrelated to the proposal. The boss then began to accuse the committee of trying to usurp the authority and take control of the department.
Discouraged, confused, and embarrassed, Jill left the meeting and shortly thereafter quit. While one narcissistic outburst might be enough for talented people to leave an organization, others continue to stay due to financial commitments. However, their productivity can be greatly reduced as a direct result of having to work with a narcissistic boss. Here is how:
- Grandiosity produces criticalness. A narcissistic boss magnifies their accomplishments to other employees in an effort to appear super-human. Their expectation for subordinates is the same level of inflated achievement. Any employee who accepts the challenge quickly discovers that the bar has been raised yet again to keep it just out of reach. Internally, the subordinate becomes overly critical of their own actions, believing they need to be perfect. When they can’t reach perfectionism, they shut down entirely and become poor performers at work.
- Idealism produces despair. Narcissistic bosses create their own fantasy world where they are all powerful, successful, brilliant, or beautiful. Employees of narcissists are expected to also be likewise but not more so than the narcissist. Yet the accomplishments of the subordinate are not their own, it is the narcissist who takes credit for it since they have established a standard of perfectionism. Since no success is solely at the hands of the employee, they lose hope that their accomplishments matter. This generates feelings of despair and despondency.
- Superiority produces inferiority. For a narcissistic boss, being average is as bad as below average. Since narcissists believe they are superior and can only associate with other superior people, their employees by extension must also be exceptional. This pressure is overwhelming to a subordinate who may realize they are not extraordinary in everything they do (especially when the narcissist boss constantly reminds them of this point). As a result, the unrealistic expectation set by the narcissist generates feelings of inferiority in the employee. “I can never be good enough,” is a common thought which then manifests in procrastination at work.
- Attention-seeking produces anxiety. A narcissist boss needs daily feeding of attention, affection, affirmation or admiration. When the employee is new, it is easy to idealize what appears to be the perfect charming boss. But when the honeymoon phase is over (this happens immediately after the first viewing of a narcissistic rage), the employee becomes hesitant to give the same level of attention. The narcissist then becomes angrier thereby generating anxiety in the subordinate. This anxiousness is almost visible in some workplaces leaving employees to be in a constant state of high alert and therefore unable to think clearly.
- Entitlement produces shame. By nature of being an employer, the narcissistic boss expects the subordinate to go along with whatever the narcissist wants. While they might listen to a suggestion or two, it is immediately discounted and the employee is sometimes chastised for even making the comment. This belittling generates feelings of shame in the employee as they begin to invalidate their own ideas or standards in favor of the narcissistic boss. Consequently, the subordinate becomes a shell at work believing their uniqueness and individuality is shameful.
- Selfishness produces mistrust. In the pursuit of self-preservation, the narcissistic boss will justify taking advantage of others, especially subordinates. This is frequently seen in abuses of standard work hours. However, if an employee demonstrates the same tendency directed towards the narcissist, it is met with swift and severe punishment. There is no quid pro quo with a narcissist unless they believe they have come out ahead. This is precisely what propagates mistrust in the subordinate as they ascertain that their boss is an unsafe person.
- Indifference produces over responsibility. Even when the subordinate is excitedly talking about a new project, the narcissistic boss will tune them out or divert the conversation to make it about the narcissist. Worse yet, when the employee has an internal management problem, there is no empathy or understanding. Sadly, the subordinate doesn’t see this as a problem of the narcissist; rather the employee assumes responsibility that somehow they were in the wrong. The result is an internal nagging of needing to take responsibility for the flaws or faults of others.
- Materialism produces dissatisfaction. Narcissists use material possessions as a way of elevating themselves over others and controlling behavior. For instance, a narcissistic boss will use gift-giving as a way of demanding extra performance from the employee. If the subordinate does what is expected, they get elaborate and expensive gifts. But if they do not live up to expectations, they might not get a gift at all. The use of material objects in this manner steels the joy of all gifts and results in a constant fear that the gift will be revoked for lack of performance.
- Arrogance produces inauthenticity. While the narcissistic boss puts on a show of snootiness to everyone outside of the office, those internally, especially subordinates, see the deep-rooted insecurity that lies beneath the façade. However, if the employee dares to expose the insecurity, they are swiftly gaslighted as the boss makes the subordinate look crazy. This teaches the employee never to reveal their own uncertainties resulting in a lack of genuineness.
Unfortunately, these patterns of behavior are not likely to be reversed in a work environment on their own, even when there is awareness from upper management. Rather, counseling and training for the boss and employees are extremely beneficial in exposing and eradicating the lies of a narcissistic boss.