Think you might have a narcissistic boss? Picture this:

At the start of working for a narcissistic boss, you probably thought you landed your dream job. The company has had high reviews, and during your final interview, the person who is your boss seemed like the manager for whom you’ve always wanted to work.  In the interview, you thought, “If I get a job here, I will never want to leave!”

Then, the bottom falls out.  After the first few days of your employment, your boss turns into your worst nightmare.  Everyone around this person seems to walk on eggshells, and you thought it was just them. But now you know why: One day you are a hero and the next day the boss tells you that you are his worst hire ever.

Unfortunately, narcissists prefer to be in roles of leadership and power.  Their drive and determination and yes, sometimes intelligence, has landed them in an authoritative role.  The good qualities that attracted you to them are also the ones that drive you away. 

Here are some traits you might find in a narcissistic boss:

  1. The narcissistic manager is very charming yet can drop the façade quickly. This trait is an asset and a detriment. For example, the narcissist can be great at landing new business, but once the sale is made, the narcissist takes off the mask. The customer (or employee) is left thinking, “What just happened?”
  2. The narcissistic boss is entitled.  Meetings are scheduled around the boss, yet the leader may change the time at the last minute and expect all attendees to adjust their schedules around to attend.  And it’s usually on short notice.
  3. The narcissistic boss’s opinion is the only opinion that matters. I remember when I worked for a startup pharmaceutical company, and the boss had the reputation of changing his mind on a whim.  I didn’t understand what that meant until I learned that he had negated the top candidate for a sales job because he didn’t like the socks the man wore to his interview. (This same CEO also refused to hire another man who came into the interview because the candidate was very suntanned.  This CEO said the candidate likely spends too much time on vacation.)
  4. The narcissistic boss must be in charge and have hands in every aspect of the business.  For example, you don’t see every person in the executive roles interviewing down to the bottom levels.  Yet, some narcissists insist on green or red lighting every new hire.
  5. The narcissistic boss will tell employees what they want to hear, then do the opposite.  A friend of mine worked for a narcissist at a company in 2018.  The narcissist told the entire organization that the company is a family-owned company and that it would never sell. Guess what? The next year the company was sold for billions to a much larger corporation.
narcissistic boss

It is not easy to work for a narcissist, but there are some ways to make it bearable. 

  1. Make sure you take care of yourself. Make sure you don’t allow the culture to drive you into the ground.  Do the best job you can, then leave it at work.
  2. Learn how to play the game. When it’s warranted, compliment the narcissist and point out the good things you appreciate. For example, “Hey Mike. That was a great presentation you made to our potential clients today. I like how you asked for their business right away.”
  3. Understand what you are dealing with. This boss won’t change.  Do your research about narcissistic personality disorder and think about the most effective ways to navigate the work environment.
  4. You can learn from a narcissistic boss. This person did have qualities that got them into that role, and you might be able to pick up some excellent instruction from this boss.
  5. Don’t challenge, undermine or criticize a narcissistic boss. Do not gossip. Some of your colleagues might share your conversation with the manager to get a leg up. Avoid that chatter at all costs.

If the boss seems too much to handle or you are experiencing emotional and physical fallout from working for a narcissist, then evaluate your options. You can switch to another department or look at other positions at different companies. If you stay, you must take care of yourself. The narcissist certainly won’t.

Laura Charanza

Think you might have a narcissistic friend? Read the article here