- Is your bad boss actually a narcissist? Two experts outline the signs.
- A narcissistic boss may brag about being above the rules and may even get aggressive.
- If that’s the case, you shouldn’t try to fix them; instead, try to leave the job.
You’ve likely heard the saying: People don’t quit their jobs, they quit their bosses.
But there are times when a bad boss is more than just bad. Your bad boss might actually be a narcissist.
A narcissist personality type is extremely self-centered, often with a grandiose sense of self, a consistent need for admiration, a tendency to take advantage of others, and a complete lack of empathy.
Craig Malkin, a clinical psychologist, a lecturer at Harvard Medical School, and the author of “Rethinking Narcissism,” described a narcissistic boss he once had.
“He insisted on my regularly staying hours late at work with trivial tasks like changing poster font sizes,” he told Business Insider. “He was more interested in controlling and demeaning me than fostering my career development.”
It’s important to note your bad boss might not necessarily have a narcissistic personality disorder, but they can still exhibit narcissistic traits and behaviors. Here are six signs you may have a narcissistic boss or manager.
They’re always the hero and can never fail
The narcissistic boss thrives in an environment surrounded by people who will encourage and feed their self-image through praise or admiration.
Amy Morin, a psychotherapist and the author of “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do,” said the narcissistic boss will likely take all the credit for any companywide successes.
“For example, the boss might act as though they’re personally giving you extra time off at the holidays when it was really a decision the board of directors made,” Morin told Business Insider.
This distinction allows them to control how they are perceived and monopolize praise.
“Picture the boss who sweeps in after making a mess of things and recounts for the board the harrowing tale of how they rescued the project they themself screwed up by running late with their part of it,” Malkin said. “They’ll naturally leave the last bit out.”
They brag about being ‘above the rules’
Narcissists often believe they shouldn’t be held to the same rules and expectations.
“The mantra of the narcissistic boss is that all rules are guidelines. The more narcissistic a boss is, the more likely they’ll feel too special to have to limit their own behavior and choices for anyone, even HR,” Malkin said.
Malkin said the narcissistic boss may even operate on an entirely different schedule than other workers.
They are unforgiving of their employees’ needs and well-being
A narcissistic boss may show little concern for issues that may arise in their employees’ lives. They’re typically insensitive and dismissive of your problems.
“Their lack of empathy can be most damaging,” Morin said. “They might say they encourage people to take time off, but they may punish people who use their PTO.”
Malkin added that setting and sticking to strict work boundaries is difficult but necessary with this type of boss.
They are unwilling to hear any constructive feedback
Narcissistic bosses can’t be bothered with constructive feedback.
“The more narcissistic someone is, the more their ego is threatened by the suggestion that they missed something or might need to correct course,” Malkin said. “In their minds, only mere mortals make mistakes.”
Morin added that open and honest communication is essential to foster and maintain a healthy work environment. If people are afraid to voice how they truly feel and express only what the narcissistic boss wants to hear, it cultivates a culture of fear and dishonesty.
“It can quickly become a toxic workplace as people don’t feel free to share their own ideas or express any concerns about a strategy the company is employing,” Morin said.
They never recognize their employees’ accomplishments
“Extremely narcissistic bosses loath to acknowledge anyone else’s talent or achievement because it threatens their sense that they, and they alone, deserve the spotlight and recognition,” Malkin said.
If they have to compliment someone, they’ll give themselves credit for someone else’s success, framing it in the context of their brilliant leadership.
They use aggression to intimidate
The narcissist uses aggression as a manipulation tactic. Raising their voice or slamming their fist against the table are ways to silence and intimidate employees. They can also use condescension and gaslighting.
“When I had a narcissistic boss, I steered clear as much as possible,” Morin said. “Disagreeing with them usually doesn’t do any good as they get angry and grow hostile. They often punish people for speaking up.”
It’s best not to take narcissistic boss’ outbursts personally and to move on as quickly as possible, Morin said.
If this rings true, the experts say you should leave your job if you can
Morin said the best course of action is to leave the job. She said you could go to HR, but it could lead to a long, painful investigation.
It’s not worth trying to change the narcissistic boss or attempting to get them to like you; you’ll merely get more hurt in the process. Instead, detach yourself from their actions and behavior. Morin said it’s best not to say anything negative about why you’re leaving the job.
“Stay focused on what you can control — your attitude and your behavior when you leave,” Morin said. “How your boss responds isn’t up to you and not within your control.”