Narcissistic Boss: There’s only one way to protect yourself from him

Narcissistic bosses can make life hell for their employees.

Narcissistic bosses can make life hell for their employees.

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  • Behind the apparently high self-confidence of narcissistic managers is actually the opposite.
  • They are completely insecure internally and overcompensate for this uncertainty by devaluing their employees and reacting allergically to criticism.
  • According to occupational psychologist Markus Dobler, there are only two options for dealing with narcissistic bosses: flatter them – or leave the company.

Everything was good in the interview. The boss worked
personable, charismatic, joking and was generally very easy to deal with. Everything,
what he said sounded great and you were proud that this successful person
want you guys on his team.

But now, after a few weeks in the job, the facade has cracked. Slowly you get the impression that the boss thinks you and your colleagues are idiots. Compliments are welcome, allegedly criticism too – but if you express them, you will be shot back immediately. If you celebrate success, he attributes it to himself. For crises, on the other hand, you are to blame – you simply have not done your work well enough.

If this sounds familiar to you, there is a good chance that you are dealing with an extreme narcissist.

“Lead narcissistic leaders to make them feel better”

There are bosses who lead because they feel called to do so. They want to help shape a project, believe firmly in their product, want to make things happen. Narcissistic bosses have a completely different motive, says Markus Dobler, occupational psychologist and author of the book “Dealing with incompetent and difficult bosses”.

First and foremost, a narcissistic manager leads to feel better, Dobler explains in an interview with No matter what you do – everything serves to strengthen your own self-esteem.

According to Dobler, the behavior of a narcissistic manager quickly becomes clear once you understand the basic principle. “Imagine sugar cubes,” says the psychologist. “Because their self-esteem is very small, narcissists have artificially built a kind of tower with it. This tower is extremely high. ”For people with normal self-esteem, on the other hand, the sugar cube construct looks like a pyramid. “It is not that high, but it is relatively stable. It’s different with narcissism. The tower is high, but extremely shaky. ”

What the metaphor should make clear: Behind the apparently high self-confidence of narcissists is actually the opposite. Managers with a narcissistic personality disorder are completely insecure internally and overcompensate this uncertainty with the behavior described above. Her fragile self-esteem sits high on the artificially constructed sugar cube tower – and to bring it down, a slight shock is enough.

You can recognize a narcissistic boss from these behaviors

Because their tower is so unstable, narcissistic leaders devalue everything that endangers them. This manifests itself in everyday work in various behaviors, which we have listed here for you:

  • You cannot criticize: “Any criticism endangers the tower. That is why they shoot around immediately if they are criticized, ”explains Dobler. “This is the first indication that you are dealing with a narcissistic manager.”
  • You cannot admit mistakes: “Admitting an error would completely endanger the tower and cause it to collapse,” says Dobler. “That is why it cannot be that I make a mistake as a narcissist. It’s always the others. In psychology this is called ‘externalization’. ”And success? They are being taken home.
  • You are a self-portrayal: According to Dobler, so many people with narcissistic personality disorder find themselves in leadership positions because they can be very charismatic. “If I can artificially spice up my own self-esteem, then I am usually able to sell myself well.” That is also one of the reasons why easily impressive people often fall for these types of people. “Narcissists can appear extraordinarily charming, friendly and attentive,” said psychologist Udo Rauchfleisch in an earlier conversation with “But it is not a warm way of referring to other people, but a very cool, calculating way of winning over others.”
  • You ignore the needs of others: Narcissistic managers find it difficult to change their perspective and respond to the needs of their employees because they only care about one thing: strengthening their self-esteem. Their leadership style also shows that they are not concerned with the well-being of their employees: According to Dobler, narcissistic bosses generally do not “lead”, they “manage”. “They move resources, much like chess pieces. And that’s where peasant sacrifices are often made. ”

When two narcissists meet in the office to meet

It becomes particularly interesting when two narcissistic managers share an office. “As long as they are left alone, fire each other and pat on the shoulder and as long as they can drag on the other ‘idiots’ – of whom you are always surrounded as a narcissist – that is completely harmless,” says Dobler.

As a rule, narcissistic managers get along relatively well as long as there is no competitive situation. But if there is competition, it will be exciting. “It’s funny to look at from the outside, because it’s a kind of racket fight,” says the psychologist. “Everyone tries to impress the female, who in this case is the boss or the management.”

The only way out: looking for space

“They are not important, the team is not important, only I am important.” A boss who communicates this message to his team is fatal to the work ethic. But what to do Fight back?

“You can basically forget about a fundamental discussion with a narcissist,” says Dobler. “Because of the deep insecurity and lack of self-esteem, any criticism is averted.” According to the psychologist, there are only two alternatives: to give the boss confirmation – or to go.

“You are slime around or you keep your distance and leave the company. Or you oppose and show the manager what a pipe it is. Then it usually doesn’t take long for you to go anyway. But not voluntarily. ”

Narcissistic personalities are always on the lookout for confirmation and accordingly prone to flattery and praise – even when they know it’s hypocritical, says Dobler. This could well lead to the preference for employees who go this route. “But only as long as they don’t become dangerous to him. As soon as you can be better than him, he starts fighting you. ”

The exceptional case: employees with expert status

If you’re an expert in your field and irreplaceable for the company, you may have an ace up your sleeve. “If the manager cannot do without you, if you have expert status and the company is dependent on your knowledge, then you have blackmail potential,” explains Dobler. “Often the manager will flatter you. But if you are easily replaceable, you won’t win this fight. ”

That a narcissist changes fundamentally is only possible through therapeutic measures – but it is extremely rare for narcissists to go into therapy on their own. “If they go to therapy at all, it is often because of something else.” Depression is mostly the reason; when the sugar cube tower has collapsed.

“The best advice I can give: Seek the expanse as quickly as possible!”

This article was published by in February 2020. It has now been checked and updated again.


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