Yesterday I met a colleague who told me something disturbing. She had just lost a contract. She and her colleague had started a change process at a company in Salzburg, which seemed quite promising. However, she received a call from her colleague, who appeared visibly uncomfortable, informing her that the owner of the company had issued an order stating that she was not allowed to come anymore. Apparently, her taxi had been parked twice on his parking lot. Twice!!! That's what happens when you offend a narcissist. (Suddenly, it became clear where the problems in the company were coming from.)

Does this bizarre behavior sound familiar to you? My condolences, you are working with, or probably under a narcissist

Why is the narcissist more likely to be your superior rather than your colleague? He shines. He exudes charisma and self-confidence in every board meeting. He is so charming that the HR department wonders how they could have overlooked this exceptional talent as a leader during the hiring process. His ideas are incredibly innovative, even daring. His presentation is captivating. Yes, with such a dominant, courageous, determined success type, you might be able to turn things around!

Behind all of this lies an outdated theory of leadership - that the bravest and strongest person is the best leader. Unfortunately, this wasn't even true for medieval battles.

The best leaders are "people-oriented" - they develop their employees to achieve peak performance, foster their careers, and enable success. This is precisely what the narcissist does NOT do. The only person he cares about is himself. It's not even about the company - his personal victory, his own success, is the ultimate goal.

Here are the 5 signs that can help you recognize a narcissist:
(according to Charles O'Reilly from Stanford Graduate School of Business and Jennifer Chatman from the University of California)

1) Grandiosity
He doesn't just enter the room; he appears. Charming, captivating, and taking up space, he leads the conversation, the meeting, the discussion. However, he is not interested in your opinion because he is primarily one thing: better than you. Better than everyone else. HE has the ideas, HE has the solutions. Always. Even when he has no clue about the matter at hand. Beware if you don't acknowledge that. It's even worse if you dare to express mild criticism. You will feel his entire supply of arrogance and haughtiness, you insignificant worm!

2) Entitlement
Rules don't apply to him, at least not the ones that the ordinary employees are expected to follow. Have you established rules for meetings? Well, he can't be bothered with such trivial matters, can he? The rules are for YOU, not for him. He might throw a "quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi" at you if you politely mention the importance of starting on time or sticking to the agenda. Because, who are you anyway? Needless to say, his belief in not being bound by the usual rules of professional conduct is also reflected in his legal perspective.

3) Manipulation and lack of integrity
For the narcissist, it's perfectly legitimate to use people; after all, he wants to achieve his goals. Integrity is just an inconvenience, and he doesn't understand the concept. Why should someone like him, who is better than the employees and customers, be bound by such constraints? Business ethics, handshake quality - those mean nothing to the predator within him who wants and needs success. Rules are for the weak, he might say. But he is a "doer." What you consider fraud is his right as the strongest. Guilt? What's that? (Studies also show that narcissists are more prone to engaging in fraud.)

4) Hostility and aggression
The narcissist is always on guard; he is hypervigilant. Anyone who threatens his ego should expect his hostility. If you think you're safe now, sorry. You already threaten his ego simply by not admiring him. Criticism is a whole different story. If you make the mistake of criticizing him, he will react disproportionately aggressively. (A therapist friend once had a narcissistic client who, due to his lack of higher education, hadn't been able to reach a leadership position and had quit his job multiple times. When asked why he quit this time, he angrily showed her an email from his employer. The employer had sent him his work schedule, starting with "Dear XY," followed by the list of shifts and "Best regards, YZ." He couldn't tolerate such lack of appreciation for his person; the employer was speaking to him as if he were mere staff. He gave him a piece of his mind, and now he was fired.)

5) Excessive self-confidence and risk-taking
These are the keys to success for narcissists in executive positions. They embody the previous ideal image of a leader: a leader, a doer. They never doubt their abilities and therefore take on tasks they have no grasp of whatsoever. Because they are extremely self-assured, they also misjudge potential risks - what could possibly go wrong? They believe they can handle it! Narcissists often remain in their positions for quite some time - their employees ensure that things run smoothly, while the narcissist effortlessly takes credit for their achievements and easily shifts blame onto the employees for any mistakes. As long as this dynamic works, nobody pays particular attention to their actions, why should they? Narcissists deliver the desired results. Unfortunately, it's often too late when they are exposed. Particularly because they do not allow criticism and refuse to change course once they've set it, as they cannot admit any mistakes. Then, there's a profit warning, and the company culture is permanently poisoned - employees have become accustomed to the notion that survival depends on deception, concealing mistakes, flattery, and blind obedience - a lethal concoction for any company.

How to avoid narcissists in the workplace?
O'Reilly and Chatman provide three recommendations to mitigate the damage:
Reward teamwork rather than individual performance. For a narcissist, it's not desirable for the team to receive recognition for their accomplishments - if he can't showcase his superiority, it holds no value for him. Ideally, avoid hiring him altogether. Place value on the statements of his former team members and what he says about his team members! Implement 360-degree feedback or performance evaluations - a high level of compensation dependence on these results has proven effective.

A final word: The narcissist is toxic, both in professional and personal settings. Take good care of yourself because the narcissist always knows where to hit you - and he will do so when he sees an advantage for himself. It may not be comforting, but consider: It is not about you as a person; a narcissist has never perceived you as such.

You can find information on how to identify narcissists in job interviews here.

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