Are You Behaving Like a Narcissistic Boss and Don’t Know It?

Just between us, be honest. Do you find yourself having to have the last word in a meeting with your direct reports? Are you often resistant to hearing bad news -” especially if it relates to you? Do you take feedback about what’s not working in your organization personally? If you answered yes to any (or all) of these, you may be falling into the behavior patterns of a narcissistic boss. “Me, narcissistic?” you ask.

Josh Leibner

While chronic leadership narcissism is mostly a problem with a small percentage of the managerial population, from time to time even the best intended of leaders may find themselves inadvertently afflicted. Still, these occasional behaviors, left unchecked, can have a significantly negative impact on staff morale and bottom-line results.

A recent study conducted by Wayne Hochwarter, the Jim Moran Professor of Management at the Florida State University College of Business, asked more than 1,200 employees to provide opinions regarding the narcissistic tendencies of their immediate supervisor.

31 percent reported that their boss is prone to exaggerate his or her accomplishments to look good in front of others; 27 percent reported that their boss brags to others to get praise; 25 percent reported that their boss had an inflated view of himself or herself; 24 percent reported that their boss was self-centered; and 20 percent reported that their boss will do a favor only if guaranteed one in return.

“Having a narcissistic boss creates a toxic environment for virtually everyone who must come in contact with this individual,” Hochwarter said. “The team perspective ceases to exist, and the work environment becomes increasingly stressful. Productivity typically plummets as well.”

Gershon Mader

To keep your leadership style in check, here are three telltale signs to watch out for that you’re slipping into narcissistic boss behaviors -” and what to do about it, should you spot them.

1. Narcissistic bosses don’t own up to past mistakes and failures. Since they believe that things are not their fault, and they feel superior to others, these bosses don’t say things straight. This often has staff saying what’s politically correct and expected of them in the meetings, but spill the real story in their backroom conversations with peers.

To counter this communication fiasco, own up to past failures -” whether they occurred on your watch or someone else’s. People will be much more willing to listen and tell you the truth when you put what went wrong on the table and don’t try to hide things or pretend they didn’t happen.

2. Narcissistic bosses don’t develop themselves or improve -” so they have to make sure that their subordinates stay and play small.

Take the case of the Fortune 500 CEO who, as soon as one of his leadership team members became too popular or strong, began to bring her down. He would find flaw with her work and even engage in gossip about her to fellow team members. In his narcissism he couldn’t see that his job was to create stars, not compete with them. The result? The leadership team became fragmented and could never come together to implement a company strategy -” creating significant performance and morale issues for the company.

To allow your subordinates to shine, be willing to admit that you may not be the smartest person in the room on certain topics. People want to contribute, and they want to know they can make a difference. If you’re always the brightest one (which will more than likely be your ego talking), you will shut out all the intelligence and desire latent within your direct reports. Learn to ask for help and ideas and then give praise to people for participating, rather than taking credit for their brilliance.

3. Narcissistic bosses take problems personally. Having difficulty separating their ego from the business, it’s hard for these leaders to listen to criticism. Instead, they spend their time trying to deflect it.

One executive at a finance company had a situation where his group was viewed as being arrogant by other departments. Whenever his staff would bring the issue up, he would justify it and find excuses. Progress could never be made on the problem, so the team -” frustrated and exhausted -” became resigned and just went through the motions, knowing that things were not likely to change.

To encourage your staff to give you feedback, practice listening more than talking -” especially in conversations where direct reports are bringing up sensitive issues.

Being a better boss is not about perfection, it’s about a commitment to caring for, developing and empowering the people who work for you. If you’ve created a healthy environment where people feel they can be open and honest, and you’re self-aware, you will know when the occasional bout of narcissism has reared its ugly head and correct it quickly.

Josh Leibner and Gershon Mader are the authors of “The Power of Strategic Commitment: Achieving Extraordinary Results Through TOTAL Alignment and Engagement”. They are co-founders of Quantum Performance Inc. and have consulted with Capital One, Cisco, Prudential Financial, Cushman & Wakefield, The United Way and many others. They can be reached at