Narcissistic bosses are everywhere, and with the majority of CEOs having narcissistic traits, they will likely still be there for years to come. Here are 16 signs of narcissistic boss abuse, and what to do about them —
Narcissistic Induced Rage Episodes
Many narcissists are prone to sudden and serious episodes of rage that has little or no apparent cause or reason. Narcissist bosses are particularly prone to this type of outburst.
If your boss is constantly getting violently angry for no apparent reason, they might be a malignant narcissist. More details on this in the article below —
Narcissists are Constantly Projecting Their Weaknesses on Others
A narcissistic boss cannot accept direct criticism. Their psychological make up is deficient to the point where even sincere and well meaning criticism is a devastating emotional blow.
While some bosses may be vulnerable narcissists that are more likely to go in to depression or avoid responsibility in order to avoid criticism, the majority of narcissistic bosses will be the grandiose extroverted type.
Grandiose narcissists bosses handle their emotional deficiencies by deflecting failure and criticism to their subordinates.
To a narcissistic boss, nothing is ever truly their fault.
Navigate narcissistic boss abuse very carefully, otherwise this habit of projection may reflect negatively on your work performance record. For tips on dealing with a narcissist boss, read this article —
Narcissistic Boss Gaslighting
One almost universal sign of narcissist abuse is gaslighting — making your feel crazy or out of touch through lies and deception. Narcissist want to control the story of their life, by making everyone believe the lies that they tell about themselves and others.
In order to make this happen, they try to make subordinates and people they can manipulate question their own perception and interpretation of events through psychological manipulation.
If you are in a vulnerable place or lack confidence in your current position, gaslighting can take a serious emotional and professional toll. I wrote an entire article on overcoming narcissistic gaslighting bosses here —
The Narcissist Boss Stare
A tool of abuse unique to the narcissistic boss the cold stare. As employees, we are looking to our boss for approval to know that what we do is supporting the company and that our position and livelihood are secure.
A long cold wordless stare is a very effective means of narcissistic manipulation.
Humans rely on facial expression to understand what other people are thinking and feeling. A wordless stare from a boss is more psychologically devastating than any verbal or written reprimand. Especially when we don’t know exactly what we did wrong.
Here is how you overcome narcissistic boss abuse like to the narcissist stare —
The Silent Treatment is Commonly Used by Narcissistic Bosses
Another effective means of psychological manipulation and abuse leveraged by narcissistic bosses is the “cold shoulder.”
Narcissistic bosses will cut you out of key meetings, conversations, or even idle office talk as a means of retribution or to keep you in line.
They may also amplify this attack by using the hot and cold method. One day, a narcissistic boss will love you. You can do nothing wrong and the will compare you favorably to your peers. Then next, they couldn’t care less about you or what you do. Your triumphs of yesterday are forgotten or downplayed. They may even say that you haven’t been keeping up the high quality of your work, as they expect more from you now.
Narcissistic Bosses Manipulate Their Employees
Unlike an effective and well meaning boss, who use ethical means and aspiring leadership to motivate their employees, a narcissistic boss will use emotional manipulation to control their subordinates.
While we talked about gaslighting and the silent treatment above, some other means of narcissistic abuse through manipulation are —
- Spreading lies and rumors
- “Forgetting” about past events or things they said
- Triangulation — bring in third parties to back up their lies or support their abuse
- Setting up excessive competition between employees
- Try to keep his workers from talking to each other
- Finding scapegoats and turning the office against them
- Knocking people down publicly if they are doing too well
- Leveraging performance reviews as a way to attack you directly
Narcissists are incredibly creative, and there are a multitude of ways that they can and will attempt to manipulate their employees.
If All Else Fails, Narcissistic Bosses Play the Victim Card
Another key sign of a narcissist boss is when they suddenly flip the tables and play the victim when things aren’t going their way.
Narcissists will only accept one of two stories of their life — “I am the best and the hero of this situation” or “I am unjustly prosecuted and worthy of pity.”
While narcissistic bosses generally prefer the later, them being in a position of authority, if there is no way they can escape their mistakes they will invariable revert to a hapless victim of circumstance.
And, woe to the person who they identify or imagine to be their persecutor.
Take pains to separate yourself from the situation when your narcissistic boss is playing the victim card in order to avoid blame and persecution.
Narcissistic Bosses are Insensitive to Employees Needs
An narcissistic boss will always but their needs and wants first, before that of their employees or subordinates.
When a narcissistic boss does something nice for their employees, they will only do so when they have the impression that it reflects well on them as a person. They will make a big deal about what they’ve done, and bring it up again and again in conspicuous forms like large meetings and company wide emails.
On the other hand, if there is something vital that an employee needs that the narcissist doesn’t personally care about or see as a way of gaining status, they will ignore it or even start to be angry if you bring it up.
In order to get whet you need from a narcissistic boss, you have to frame what you need in a what that makes the boss a hero when they provide it.
You Become an Extension of the Narcissistic Boss’ Agenda
Narcissistic bosses see everyone around them as a means to an end. Your career, professional integrity, and accomplishments mean nothing so long as the narcissist can get ahead.
While they may love you one day, a narcissist will just as willing discard any employee if they feel the need to do so.
While you are working for a narcissist boss, it is best to align your goals in the same direction as the narcissist. If you win, the boss must win even more. You can never be at odds, or your position will be at serious risk.
Read more on how to effectively manipulate your narcissistic boss for you benefit here —
On the other hand, there may come a time when you can no longer tolerate the boss’s direction, if it pushes you beyond your personal or professional boundaries. When enough is enough, be sure to have an exit strategy in place.
Name and Status Dropping Are a Sign of a Narcissistic Boss
A clear sign of a narcissist boss is excessive name dropping and a fixation on status.
In one of my previous positions, I saw this in a boss who couldn’t care less about a potential client calling in when he thought it was one of our regular customers. However, once I told him that he held a prestigious position in our industry, his eyes lit up, and he fawned over that client and demanded to speak to him personally.
While it is natural to treat accomplished or authoritative people with respect and extra care, extreme swings between utter apathy and glee because of titles and name power are signs of a narcissist.
Narcissistic bosses will also love applying titles to themselves. You may find one or more prestigious sounding titles under their name in emails, letters, or on their desk.
They will also make a point of telling you just who they know, eat lunch with, meet on the weekends, etc.
Narcissistic Bosses Love to Be the Center of Attention
Every narcissistic boss that I’ve had in the past has always sought out reasons why people should listen to them.
You will see this manifested as —
- Long meetings where they can talk or pass judgment on others
- All call or all hands meetings for trivial matters
- Regular meetings where nothing actually gets done
- Demand that you stop work when they are talking in a room
- Calling people in their office, when a short email would have sufficed
This tendency is one of the most destructive behaviors of the narcissistic boss in a business.
Rules and Ethical Norms are Ignored by Narcissistic Bosses
Narcissist in general, and narcissistic bosses especially, don’t feel that the rules apply to them.
While they may be zealous in braining down the hammer on someone that breaks a relatively minor company policy, they can turn around and break the same policy later that day with no feelings of guilt or remorse.
The only thing that tempers their rule breaking is the fear that they might get caught.
Narcissistic Bosses are Reluctant to Give You Credit
A narcissistic boss doesn’t want anyone to outshine their “brilliance” in the public eye.
Whenever you do something noteworthy, a narcissistic boss is likely to either —
- Downplay your accomplishment
- Claim the accomplishment as their own
- Divert attention so something else they can take credit for
Always document your accomplishments as much as you can independently of the boss’s evaluations when you work for a narcissist.
Narcissistic Bosses Cannot Accept Criticism
When you work for a narcissist boss, they will never be able to truly accept act on criticism or critique from any quarter. Much less from their employees or subordinates.
Narcissists are extremely sensitive to external signs that they may not be “good enough,” and already suffer from a deep seated sense of inferiority, which they attempt to drown out with praise.
Never phrase feedback to a narcissistic boss as a critique, rather form it as a positive assertion
Read more about how to do this as in —
To a Narcissistic Boss, Everyone is Either an Inferior or Superior
Another sign related to name dropping is the narcissist boss’s perception that everyone around theme is either an inferior to be controlled, or a superior to be praised.
Think Dwight Shrute from The Office TV show.
If your boss doesn’t have anyone that they consider to be their equal, then they are probably a narcissist.
Narcissists Spew Negative and Toxic Emotions
Narcissists grave control of their surroundings through emotional manipulation and abuse tactics. So, when conditions in the office are light and things are going well, they can’t stand it as they feel their grip on moral is slipping.
Narcissist bosses will cause fake crisis or do things to torpedo moral if his workers or too happy.
Because of this, working for a narcissist is rarely an enjoyable experience, unless they happen to be in work that day.
How do you survive a narcissistic or toxic boss?
Survive a narcissistic boss by learning how they operate, and what makes them tick. Employ smart tactics to leverage their condition to your advantage. Always document your work. Define and guard your personal boundaries. And, always have an exit strategy.
Do narcissists make good bosses?
No, narcissists are terrible bosses, although narcissists tend to seek out positions of authority at work. Because narcissists are extroverted, they are often promoted to management positions, and their supervisor may consider them to be effective. But, their effect on team cohesiveness and moral always hurts the business in the long run.