Managing a narcissistic employee can be both difficult to get right and extremely rewarding. But, if you give them too much leeway, they can cause endless troubles in the workplace. Here are nine tips for coping with narcissistic employee, and our 5 step method for making a narcissist your all-star employee.
Focus on What Matters to Them
The biggest mistake managers make when supervising a narcissist is to focus on what is good for the team, business, or management team rather than what the narcissist wants.
The reason this is a huge mistake, is because a narcissist will never put the needs of other people above their own. Narcissists have developmental issues which prevent them from embracing selfless or team oriented service. Everything a narcissistic does is for them self, even if they make it look otherwise.
Not sure if you have a narcissist on your hands? Here are 21 behaviors you can identify to help you know for sure —
Even if a narcissist seems like they are on board with your vision, they are already looking for how it can benefit them.
Instead of leaving it up to the narcissist to place themselves in your team’s mission, with potentially destructive consequences, find or make a place for them where they can personally benefit.
When your communicate with a narcissist, be sure to emphasizes how following your lead will —
- Make them look good
- Provide them a personal benefit
- Has little or no risk of embarrassment if they fail (more on this later)
Take Charge of Aligning the Narcissist’s Interests with Yours
As a leader, ensure your goals align with that of the narcissist. Because a narcissist won’t let their desires take a back seat to the needs of the company, you must ensure that your goals align with their goals.
Outcomes that motivate a narcissist include —
- Being recognized as the best in their field, office, or group
- Status or symbols of success
- Wealth and power
If your next big milestones don’t make a place for this type of reward for your narcissist(s) employees, then you are setting yourself up for failure.
Narcissists are very creative and effective at getting what they want out of an organization. If you don’t provide a means for them to get what they want that aligns with your goals, they will find a means that may not.
Poorly lead narcissists are extremely destructive effective working environments. See this article for more details on that —
Identify and Mitigate the Narcissists’ Weaknesses and Vulnerabilities
Keep narcissists away from situations that draw out the worst in them. Some examples of these situations are —
- Direct supervision of employees which they feel competitive with
- Roles where they report on other work’s successes and failures
- Roles where they are responsible for supporting coworkers they consider to be equals or subordinates
- A schedulers, or work assigners
Narcissists will make themselves look good by making other employees look bad. Allowing them to be in roles where they have an impact on subjective reporting, control of vital information, mentoring, or evaluating other employee’s work should be minimized.
The only way to safely put a narcissist in charge of someone else is if the narcissist’s success is tied to the success of their subordinate.
Narcissist employees work best in highly individualistic roles where they are working in objectively measurable ways. For example: sales, purchasing, piecework, commissions based positions, as individual contractors, etc.
Avoid Direct Criticism
Narcissists never react positively to direct criticism of their failures or rule breaking.
If at all possible, emphasize the areas that they are meeting or exceeding expectations, then let it be know that you expect the other areas to come up to standards.
Another form of soft criticism are team wide reminders, or re-emphasis of company policy. If a narcissist fails to take heed of these gentle reminders, let it be known that you will be measuring and reviewing adherence to these policies on an individual basis.
If you need to let a narcissist go, be careful to document well and be ready for narcissistic backlash on the day of firing. Accusations or sabotage from narcissists on their way out of a company cause serious damage to the reputation of business and managers that don’t expect it.
Use Incentives that Motivate Narcissists
A narcissist will never be content with a job well done, if no one sees them do it.
To properly motivate a narcissist they need —
- Public recognition for their success
- Opportunities to be praised when they do well
- Protection from criticism when they fail
Office wide competitive games can be effective at motivating narcissists. However, I don’t recommend you post stores publicly, as this provides too much negative incentives for narcissists to attempt to cheat the system. Rather just publish the top performers.
Narcissists also respond well to individual coaching from managers they respect. Just knowing that what they do at the company is being watched by a “parental” figure who will dole at praise as appropriate goes a long way to rectifying their bad behavior.
Learn how to successfully mentor a narcissist employee here —
Don’t Fall in to Their Traps
Narcissists are the masters of misinformation and manipulation. They will undoubtedly lay traps for you that will:
- Test your professionalism and objectivity
- Confuse or misinform you (to the narcissist’s benefit)
- Reduce the effusiveness of other people in your organization
- Make you look stupid or incompetent
When managing a narcissist, be very careful about where and how you get your information. Rely on verifiable and objective measures as much as possible. Also, develop and office culture of openness and honesty which helps mitigate the narcissist’s ability to spread false information.
Define and Enforce Appropriate Boundaries
A narcissist employee will constantly test your boundaries. In many ways they are like a young child, trying to feel out what they can get away with, and what they can’t.
Be vigilant of what office norms or traditions the narcissist may be breaking, and what potential consequences this has for the group. Often the most dangerous oversteps they make are the ones you didn’t realize was a problem until too late.
As you discover lines that they have crossed, reinforce these lines through general meetings, memos, emails, or however you disseminate information in your workplace. Keep adding these details to a written policy document, which is disseminated to all employees. This help prevent a narcissist from slowly moving the goalpost over time, and wearing management down.
Draw a line in the sand, and be ready to let a narcissist go if they cross it.
Be a stickler for the rules around a narcissist. Don’t let them flatter or sweet talk their way out of appropriate consequences for what they have done.
Insulate Other Workers from the Narcissist
Narcissists can have seriously negative impacts on other employees in the office. Generally, teams with narcissists become overly competitive, stifling productive collaboration, and too afraid of failing over time.
In addition to keeping them out of critical roles listed above, actively promote a positive company culture that counters these negative tendencies.
- Have a culture and process that is accepting of failure by working to correct it without excessive individual blame
- Prize openness and collaboration over individual success
- Encourage sharing of information, building systems so no one person can hoard vital information
This type of workplace culture prevents a narcissist from sabotaging others or making themselves “indispensable” to the point where they have undo leverage over their employer.
Use the 5 Step “Narcissist All-Star Employee Management Method”
This is the 5 step process that I recommend for coping with a narcissist employee.
- Take an inventory of their weaknesses, desires, and potential to negatively affect the company using the “Narcissist Assessment Worksheet”
- Enact emergency corrective actions as recommended, based on the initial assessment
- Initiate individual coaching with the narcissist. Develop goals with them using the “Narcissist Coaching Workbook”
- Enact and measure the narcissist’s success based on your shared goals on a recurring basis (as planned in the coaching workbook)
- Develop a career plan for the narcissist, with “Go” and “No-Go” bullets that definitively decides the proper time to promote or fire a narcissist in your employment
Following this process can turn a narcissist on there way out in to your most productive employee. Harnessing the narcissistic ego drive for their benefit and your benefit will be a huge win for you team.
This process also help you know definitively when you need to let a narcissist go, because they are more trouble than they are worth.
Worksheets mentioned above and detailed guidance are available to my clients or students, upon request.
Get Help with a Narcissist Employee
I offer additional resources and one-on-one coach or consulting for managers dealing with narcissist employees. More information in the following links —
How do you deal with a narcissistic employee?
Effectively lead a narcissist employee by making room for their selfish desires in a way the benefits the company. Minimize their negative influence by placing them in results oriented positions that don’t evaluate or control other employees. Use coaching sessions as a way to amplify their success and manage their weaknesses.