Read my new book, An Enlightened Entrepreneur:
57 Meditations on Kicking @$$ in Business and Life"4.8/5 stars" on Amazon

7 Signs That Your Boss Is A “Charisma-Based Narcissistic Leader”

Few things irk me more than hearing from friends who have to work with “narcissistic leaders.”

Why would my friends work with someone who’s “narcissistic?” Because they are charismatic — they are able to mobilize resources (i.e. you and others!) through their charisma.

I call such leaders  ”Charisma-Based Narcissistic Leaders.”

Gordon Gekko is an excellent example of a "Charisma-Based Narcissistic Leader"

The scary part is that these charismatic leaders usually meet 2 of the 3 requirements that Warren Buffett demands in a good business person (high intelligence and high energy) — it’s the third one (high integrity) they have a problem with (see Warren Buffett’s 3 Simple Steps On Who To Hire for more on that).

Ok, so on with it — here are 7 signs that you work with one of these jackasses:

7 Signs Of A Charisma-Based Narcissistic Leader

1) They’re Big On Titles (Especially They’re Own)

Narcissistic leaders typically love big titles…and even more than one!

For example, you might find them using:

  • Founder, Chairman & CEO (instead of just CEO) or
  • Vice President & General Manager (instead of just VP)

And don’t be surprised to see your Charisma-Based Narcissistic Leaders holding multiple positions outside your organization. One look at their LinkedIn profile and you might see a few other positions they hold (even if they aren’t that active in them).

These toxic leaders tend to love acquiring titles that show their authority — ego is a major driver of this.

2) They Take Credit For Your Work

Charisma-based leaders are amazingly talented at taking credit for your work.

This may happen internally (e.g. you solve a problem and your leader implies to their peers or manager that they solved the problem themselves).

Or it may happen externally: a press release goes out about an achievement and it’s your ego-driven leader’s name that’s on it (not the main driver of the achivement).

You ever hear the advice smart folks give about “not having pride of authorship” about a product (i.e. be a team player)?  Well, your toxic leader does have pride of ownership — their own!

3) They Revise History To Their Benefit (aka “Revisionist History”)

A charisma-based narcissistic leader often practices revisionist history.

For example, you may have warned them that some system would fail unless it was upgraded …and they don’t follow your recommendation).

And when the system later fails, they point the finger at you and say:

“Why did you let this happen!?”

This can happen with positive events too — an idea that you suggested ends up working and they later on say something to the effect of:

“I’m glad we executed my idea.”

4) They Care More About Their Team Than Your Team

Narcissistic leaders often have an “Us Versus Them” philosophy in their organization where:

  • Us = them and their direct reports
  • Them = your team

So they may care about you as you serve their team but they don’t really care about you as part of your own team.

What can make this extra-frustrating is that they will sometimes micro-manage and go directly to someone on your team (around your back)…but only to serve their own interests (not your own or your team’s).

They also tend to manage up a lot better than they manage down.

It’s just awful!

5) They Put In Place Corporate Structures That Don’t Make Sense

Charisma-Based Narcissistic Leaders are so blinded by their own ego that they will change the structure of your organization in ways that don’t make sense. Some examples:

  • People on the team may have multiple bosses (usually a bad idea)
  • People will report to your leader when they should really be reporting to someone else.

Changes and surprises are typically negative events for those involved.

6) They Appear To Be More Of An Actor Than Real Person

Friends of mine describe their narcissistic bosses as “putting on a show” about their thoughts or feelings on business matters.

Speaking of putting on a show, your narcissistic boss may often dress the part — wearing expensive high-status types of outfits and driving an over-the-top car.

Their authenticity is very hard to judge.

7) Constructive Criticism (Of Them) Is Not Welcome

Charisma-based narcissistic leaders may like to dish out criticism but they have a hard time hearing it themselves.

Those around them walk on egg-shells.

This creates more of the “us versus them” environment in which you’re either with your narcissistic boss or you’re against them.

Determining A Person Is A Charisma-Based Narcissistic Leader BEFORE You Work With Them

In an ideal world, you don’t ever end up working for a charisma-based narcissistic boss.

Here are some signs that you may be able to catch ahead of time, before you even work with one of these people.:

  • They use “I” or “Me” or “My” much more than “We” or “Us” or “Our.”
  • They have little to no self-awareness
  • They have large networks of contacts (yet few high-integrity people who work with them more than once)

And if it’s too late, and you work with one of these toxic bosses already, my only advice is:

“Get out now…and fast!”

3 Comments

  • gwingatetx

    Read “The Psychopath Test” by Jon Ronson.  One thesis is that psychopaths occupy a high percentage of CEO spots, and they have the exact personality traits described here.  Great read.

  • http://www.robdkelly.com/about/ Rob Kelly

    Thanks for the book suggestion. The more information that can help people size up/steer clear of Psychopath CEOs, the better!

    Here’s a link to The Psychopath Test on Amazon.

  • Not_a_real_emain

    I don’t usually comment, but this was a spot on description of my CTO. It is a shame how long it takes to recognize though, and how long one can be deluded by their revisionism and charisma.

    I’m finally quitting after having had enough. Worst of all, my main grievance isn’t even the narcissist anymore, but how other coworkers who are harassed and manipulated rationalize the problem the same way I did for years.