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The Productive Narcissist: Is Your Manager One?

Narcissism in the Corporate World

Overconfident, charismatic, and goal-oriented. Three things you would probably associate with someone who is in a position of power and influence within a corporation. You think of the team leader, the manager, and the c-suite. And guess what? Those are all typical traits of a narcissist as well—those traits are probably why business owners so often hire them in the first place.

Narcissists can be selfish, entitled, and arrogant, much like what the media reports about, for example, the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs or even Tesla’s Elon Musk. But there’s something the media never talks to us about, and that’s productive narcissism—the kind of narcissism that is a pain to work with yet useful and even integral to an organization.

Psychoanalyst, anthropologist, and Harvard graduate Michael Maccoby, who specializes in narcissistic leadership, once commented about unproductive narcissism in an interview with CNBC stating that narcissists become at risk of becoming “unproductive” when they “lack self-knowledge and restraining anchors.” Contrary to popular belief, Maccoby says that narcissists can actually be “gifted and creative strategists who see the big picture and find meaning in the risky challenge of changing the world and leaving behind a legacy.”

Productive narcissists are rule-bending, fearless egoists with big dreams and bold ideas.

 

 

How do you know you’re dealing with a narcissistic—but productive—manager?

They care about their interests more than yours.

A stereotypical trait of a narcissist is their self-centeredness and inability to think about the interests of others. If you find your boss often zones out when it’s somebody else’s turn to talk during a meeting, then it’s probably because whatever it is you or your peers are saying are little to no interest to him or her.

A narcissistic CEO—a productive one, that is—cares about one thing only, their company’s interest. And their company’s interest is linked to their own interest. So if you say anything unrelated to the company’s goals or vision during a meeting, a conversation, or a phone conversation, they will only view you as an annoying noise in the background.

Sometimes, it doesn’t even have to be company-related. If you’re talking about cats when they’re more of a dog-person, they won’t really listen much to what you’re saying.

They hate problems (and other nonsense)

Productive narcissistic CEO are visionaries who care about company goals, objectives, and results, in other words, the company’s OKRs. Anything beyond that realm is of little to no interest to them. That also includes problems rather than solutions as well as office drama.

You know your boss is narcissistic when all they care to know about is whether or not you’re working towards your set goals and that you’re taking care of the problem. They don’t want to hear about the problem, they just want to hear that you—the expert—are handling the situation.

They’re skeptical of everyone

When you think of a dreamer or a visionary, you generally think of someone who is willing to share their thoughts, feelings, and ideas with the world. The visionary productive narcissistic CEO, however, might be willing to share their ideas, but might be more hesitant about sharing their thoughts and feelings.

Narcissists are very self-centered, whether productive or unproductive. The irony is that they think everyone else is only serving their own interests; the paycheck at the end of the month or even their jobs. They know running a business is a game of politics, so they won’t let just about anyone into their circle.

If you’re finding it hard to get your manager or the CEO to listen to you, it’s because they’ll think you’re part of the game as well.

They’re not considerate of your feelings

This is a common trait of all narcissists, but productive narcissists are considerate in a different way from unproductive narcissists. While unproductive narcissists are dismissive of your emotional wellbeing because they don’t care about you, productive narcissists come off as dismissive and inconsiderate. Not because they don’t care but because your personal feelings are taking the focus away from the company’s vision—in other words, their vision—and placing it on you.

When your manager doesn’t want to hear about that time he kicked you out of the meeting and “how that made you feel,” he’s doing it because your personal feelings are getting in the way of what they think is important—the company vision.

 

Empathetic leadership is the ideal, not the reality

The picture of an ideal leader that the media usually paints us is one of compassion, great empathy, sensitivity, and strength. While all four are beautiful traits to behold as a leader, it’s simply not the reality we live in in the corporate world. The best managers are truly the ones who can balance empathy and authority, but that is a perfect world we have yet to live in.

In fact, an article on Harvard Business Review says that the higher up the ladder you go in an organization, the empathy slowly starts getting lost along the way. The closer to the top you get, the more your interests become centered around the company’s goals, which slowly start melding into your professional goals.

 

CEOs and managers who carry narcissistic traits can be difficult to work with—you don’t always know what they want, and you can’t always get them to listen.

Learn the language of the manager so you can speak with the manager, and what better way to learn that than from a CEO.

Grab a copy of How to Talk so CEOs Listen by a CEO himself Ammar Mango.

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