Recognising the narcissist in your organisation

Identifying Narcissists

Identifying Narcissists

Since I published my ‘Charming the birds off the trees’ blog post I have received a number of inquiries about how to identify whether there may be a narcissist in your organisation. I hope the thinking below helps.

A distinct aspect of narcissistic behaviour is the need for excessive admiration. The narcissist demands respect from people at all levels in an organisation – and for everything they do. This degree of praising may feel like hard work to those expected to provide it. However, always remember that ‘criticism’ is unwelcome to a narcissist.

Signs to look out for are:

  • They are often keen to change roles before their manager has a chance to notice a systematic pattern.
  • They show immature or inappropriate behaviour, including poor coping skills, gossiping (for example, based on privileged access to personnel files), inappropriate remarks (for example, asking people in a team-building game to consider sexual experiences with others).
  • Some narcissists have performance issues, such as poor results/missed objectives that they usually cover up. Narcissists often explain these poor results as being the result of someone or something else out of their control obstructing them. The sound bite may sound like this: “X did not do their job properly.”
  • Strong narcissistic performers expect others to work as they do. Where this requires co-operation from others there are often complaints about the narcissist being autocratic, micro-managing and being overly demanding of others. This often results in a high turnover of team members. One story I heard was ruefully told. She was ‘made’ to work until midnight to get a task completed, only to discover that the narcissist had taken the next day off and taken all the credit for delivery.
  • Narcissists have difficulty in taking a balanced perspective. For example, I once heard a call centre manager refuse sales training for his people, as it would “simply make my people more attractive and they will leave”.
  • Narcissists are perceived as being insensitive, often shouting in public and deliberately humiliating people. For example, on the death of a team member’s mother – “you’ll get used to it” – said in an abrasive, abusive tone. And there was the demand that an ill colleague continue to work in order to finish a task important to the narcissist.