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Narcissism and Leadership

Narcissism is common in business, church, education—leadership in general. Because of the fall-out from narcissistic leadership, we need to be more aware of the traits and how to spot them—not just in others, but in ourselves as well.

Scott Ball lists five warning signs of the narcissist’s leadership. He says such a leader . . .

1. Exudes Self-Importance Leaders who cannot see their organization functioning without them at the helm are at risk of becoming narcissistic. Look at Moses. Multiple books of the Bible are centered on his leadership journey, but when Deuteronomy 34 rolls around, his death gets four verses before the story turns to Joshua. The mission goes on. The leadership of your church or your business is its greatest asset and its greatest liability. The degree to which a leader sees himself or herself as self-important determines that scale. Do you understand that the mission can go on well without you?

2. Acts Entitled Narcissistic leaders feel they are the exception, not the rule. They drive human resources crazy, because they see the policies and guidelines applying to everyone else but not themselves. This warning sign of narcissistic leadership can creep in all too quickly. When everyone else is hustling on a project, they’ve got an important meeting and can’t participate. Or perhaps the narcissistic leader’s family time is protected more than the rest of the staff. Scripture teaches that leaders should be exceptions, but not for their own gain. True leaders are exceptional servants, taking the harder road even when the easier path is open to them.

3. Uses Generalizations Narcissistic leaders often exaggerate to achieve their goals. They say “always” and “never” to enhance their perspective. They use just enough facts to be safe. They are often perceived by colleagues as “throwing me under the bus.” A narcissistic leader’s words are powerful, and they can be poison.

4. Needs Adoration, Motivated by Power Narcissistic leaders need adoration. Everyone wants to be liked, and most people will change behavior to some degree if they believe it will make them better liked. When narcissistic leaders are crossed, they often respond with emotional bullying. Perceived offenses are met with negativity and bullying. They don’t mind having someone fear them if it accomplishes the goal.

The narcissistic leader loves the adoration of the crowd and the feeling of being the most important person in the room. Be honest with yourself and with God. Where have you seen this sign of narcissistic leadership in your interactions with others? Identify it, ask God for forgiveness, and apologize to those you believe you may have hurt.

5. Lacks Empathy Most characteristically, narcissistic leaders lack empathy. Their chief concerns are their goals, mission, and reputation. Narcissistic leaders are willing to sacrifice people on the altar of ego. Unfortunately, most of the time they don’t even realize that there is a trail of emotionally damaged people in their wake.

Are you getting the picture? Another psychological list points out the following:

A narcissist has . . .

  • A high need for praise because the world needs to be about him.

  • A view that there is no one in the world who can do something better than she can.

  • A primary motivation for power.

  • An intense sense of competition.

  • A regular sense that he/she is underappreciated and valued.

  • A self-righteous spirit. His/her views are inherently superior and more right than others.

  • A great need to be “the entertainer.” Think Kanye West.

A narcissist doesn’t . . .

  • Ask for help or input on decisions because he doesn’t believe anyone else could ever solve a problem that he can’t solve. His/her team members find out after the train is already rolling.

  • Accept responsibility for failure, because in his mind the failure was some else’s fault.

  • Listen well. and he/she has a poor memory for meetings and information because he/she is only listening for the information he/she wants.

Tough news, guys. Narcissists are not exclusively male, but men are much more so than women. After 34,653 face-to-face interviews, psychologist Frederick Stinson found that men in general are more self-focused and narcissistic than women across their lifespans. This could be a reason female bosses tend to have much higher approval ratings than males.

Narcissism is easy to identify in others, but hard to see in ourselves. The success of our leadership, however, depends on our ability to know ourselves. So, step back. Think objectively. Are you showing any of the signs of narcissistic leadership?

Overcoming narcissism is no simple process. If you are a person of faith, the first and most obvious step is to turn to God and ask for His help. You can make changes that will create a positive impact on your life. Genefe Navilon of IDEAPOD has identified some achievable steps to help you stop being a narcissist, according to psychologists.

Know your “triggers.” Triggers are situations, words, or behaviors that arouse strong negative feelings in you. People with narcissistic issues tend to overreact when they are “triggered” and do things that they later regret. You may identify a quick sense of anger, or you may become dismissive of others. Whatever your particular triggers are, start to take note of them. Over time, you’ll start to notice patterns on when you feel triggered by others and react with narcissistic tendencies.

Manage your impulses. Narcissistic people are often impulsive and make decisions without thinking of the consequences.Emphasize thinking first and reacting later. Quit excusing yourself as being enthusiastic or some other complimentary word. Own you are mowing other people down. Become aware of your impulses. This gives you the opportunity to create behavioral change in your life. Create space between your trigger and your response.

Consciously choose a new set of empathetic responses. Express genuine interest in and curiosity about people in your life. Listen at least as much as you talk. Think about the triggers you’ve been taking note of in step one, and take some time out to think about how you would like to react. What would your reaction be if you were consciously thinking of others and demonstrating empathy?

Celebrate the decision you’ve made to be a better person. It sounds simple, but if you have identified yourself as having narcissistic tendencies, have started to take note of your impulses and reactions, and have begun to replace your narcissistic reactions with empathic ones, then you should be very satisfied with yourself. By taking time out for yourself each day to celebrate yourself, you’ll remind yourself about why you’re doing what you do. This will give you inner motivation to continue your quest to stop being a narcissist.

Take responsibility for everything that happens in your life. Narcissists have a reputation of rarely taking responsibility for what happens in their life. They either manipulate the situation to play the victim or make someone else feel guilty for the crime they committed themselves.

Practice gratitude. Gratitude requires a whole lot of humility—something narcissists often have difficulty understanding. But if there is one way to quench an inflated ego, practicing gratitude will certainly do the trick. This is because gratitude shifts you from thinking about yourself to feeling grateful for other people and things in your life.

John Amadeo, award-winning author of Dancing with Fire: A Mindful Way to Loving Relationships, explains: “Gratitude is a corrective to our sense of entitlement. One aspect of narcissism is the belief that we deserve to get without having to give. We feel that we’re entitled to fulfill our needs without being troubled by perceiving another’s world and responding to others’ needs. Our attention is fully absorbed within a limited and narrow sense of self.”

We’re at the start of a new year. This is a good time to help yourself and your organization by being alert to the signs of narcissistic behavior that can destroy your future.

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