Dan presents as an intelligent, charismatic and charming man. He has recently joined the executive team of a multi-national with high hopes on the part of the CEO and Board Chairperson to get his division “firing”.
Dan was noticed for being articulate and “schmoozing the right people”. “We mean businesss”’ was his favourite mantra.
In the beginning, it all looked good as Dan presented confidently his big ideas for a major turnaround in the business. He took charge – beginning with restructuring his immediate team – promotion for one, a few unchanged positions and the end of careers for others.
A couple of those made redundant had been loyal, well-liked and long-serving, capable team members leading to questions and “talk” in and outside the organization.
One of the senior executive team members who had questions about Dan was John. John was nowhere as charming, funny and engaging as Dan but was nevertheless a solid, experienced and well-respected member of the organization.
His gut feelings based on observations and stories he was hearing was that Dan was neither a great leader nor a team player; that Dan was putting his own agenda and needs ahead of what was good for the company and could not be trusted.
John was concerned that Dan had dismissed some good people simply because they challenged his initiatives and stood as possible impediments on his way to building his own power base.
As time went on, the CEO became increasingly concerned about the negative ‘buzz’ he was hearing along with implied one-liners and comments left hanging in the air. He had begun questioning Dan’s levels of responsibility, accountability and integrity as Dan had a ready excuse for his relationship fall out with significant stakeholders, the lack of delivery as expected and a ready finger pointing elsewhere.
It was not long before Dan was fired leaving behind a trail of unfulfilled promises, disappointment, broken trust, shattered careers, deception and a sense of being used and abused.
After this toxic and expensive encounter, the CEO, Board and the senior leadership team had to pick up the pieces and re-build the team including reflections on how they “missed this one”, re-visiting their vision, purpose, value base and organizational strategy not to mentions a more judicious search for Dan’s replacement.
Dan had a number of narcissitic traits and qualities, which initially charmed but later led to his derailment.
Narcissism is a psychological disorder that has been defined by DSM IV – Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – as including:
- An exaggerated sense of one’s own abilities and achievement
- A constant need for attention, affirmation and praise
- A belief that he or she is unique or “special” and should only associate with other people of the same status
- Persistent fantasies about attaining success and power
- Exploiting other people for personal gain
- A sense of entitlement and expectation of special treatment
- A preoccupation with power or success
- Feeling envious of others, or believing that others are envious of him or her
- A lack of empathy for others.
Narcissism can be found in 1-2% of the general population.
Dealing with a narcissistic personality whether at work or home can be a confusing and challenging business. As a work colleague, family member or partner it can be a while before one realizes that who you are dealing with is someone outside the realms of normal human exchange.
One reason for this is the narcissist’s charm, which gets used to engage then manipulate others to win.
Narcissist are masters at using superficial charm to stroke the egos of whoever they have targeted – workmates or their wider contacts. Ideas and opportunities get dangled and help enlisted – if you could just do this small favour for them. For example, a good word in the boss’s ear or access to resources because of their high potential.
In relationships, narcissists know exactly which emotional strings and soft spots to target. They will make a point of highlighting how they are ‘helping you’ when all the time they are getting what they want.
Narcissists, sociopathic and psychopathic personalities have no qualms or sense of fairness and integrity as they weave their small and big lies, manipulate, and influence others “to win.”
Workmates can feel confused as they find themselves suddenly dropped by the person who they thought they had a special friendship or connection with.
This happens once the person’s use is over and there is someone more powerful with resources and information that they can charm their way into.
Narcissists have very little empathy for others feelings or needs. They have a strong sense of entitlement, grandiose beliefs and attitudes and tend to be takers.
In their world view, the “other’ is rarely a separate identity but more extension of their own self serving needs and fulfillment.
They can even pride themselves as being ‘lay psychologist’- their MO.
If you find you are dealing with someone who is extremely charming initially but is basically quite selfish, who uses others, who mouths the right words but without follow through and who struggles with the concept of responsibility and accountability, then take a step back – you could be dealing with a narcissist.
Naming this can be the needed powerful first step along with setting boundaries and other actions you may take.
If this topic is of interest to you, you may also wish to read, “Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths go to work” by Paul Babiak, an industrial-organizational psychologist and Robert Hare, a world-renowned expert on psychopathy.
Jasbindar Singh, a business psychologist and leadership coach works with individuals, teams and organisations helping them get more focused and effective.