Narcissistic Boss? Signs, Complaints and How to Deal

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It’s an unforgettable experience, working with a narcissistic boss. They occupy nearly every corner of an organization from entry-level supervisors up to the owner/CEO. Narcissists seek positions over others in order to feel better about themselves, while unconsciously feeling helpless and inferior.
They need people below them in order to feel superior, but as is typical with power, it is never enough. Working for a narcissist is challenging and impacts your personal life as much as it affects your professional life. 

Narcissists have an exaggerated sense of their own importance accompanied by a deep need for external admiration. They believe they are superior to others and as a result, have little regard for other people’s feelings. But what lies beneath a narcissist’s false confidence is a fragile self-esteem that can’t cope with even the smallest of criticisms. 

Signs of a Narcissistic Boss

Knowing the signs of a narcissistic boss can help you strategize ways to cope with one. Don’t suffer the needless abuse of a narcissistic manager longer than you have to. While some managers will show these signs from time to time a pathological narcissist perpetually operates in several of the following traits. 


1. Your boss views the staff as indispensable.

They talk about firing people without hesitation. They treat staff and vendors badly for their gain and quickly discard them soon after. A narcissistic boss is highly critical but will blame outwardly when things don’t go right. They will bad-mouth and manipulate others to make themselves look good. Surprisingly, the narcissistic boss will be genuinely surprised if staff or suppliers leave on their own.

2. Your boss name or status drops.

They frequently talk about who they know, who they meet with, their past accomplishments and the high-profile projects they are involved in. The narcissistic boss reminds everyone of the praise they’ve received from their exclusive groups or other VIPs. While sharing these accomplishments isn’t necessarily wrong, the narcissist will be in your face and over the top about them. 

3. Your boss takes disproportionate or exaggerated credit for achievements.

They use employees’ hard work to make themselves look better. To do this, they either take the credit altogether or will relate the positive outcome solely to their influence. Seldom does a narcissistic manager give full credit to employees who are beneath them. And when those above them aren’t around, they will claim their credit too.


4. Your boss has a complete lack of empathy. 

Because the narcissistic manager feels superior, the feelings of others are not something they concern themselves with. Due to this, they are unable to relate to people as equals. Narcissistic bosses view the purpose of relationships as a means to get what they want.

5. Your boss is negative about everyone around them.

It benefits the narcissistic boss to put others down because it reinforces their superiority. While it comes so easy to them, to put others down, they cannot cope with anyone else’s criticism of them. A narcissistic boss is overwhelmingly motivated to be viewed as a savior.  

6. Your boss isn’t effective in getting things done.

Even though the narcissistic manager is in charge, they are unable to get much done. As a result of how they use and manipulate people, employees won’t work as hard for one. This causes unnecessary delays or inconsistent implementation of processes.


7. Your boss views emotions as drama.

Due to their lack of empathy, narcissistic managers tend to view reasonable emotions as drama and will quickly remove, through firing, anyone who expresses emotions at work. They will change the conversation anytime emotions come up, especially their own.

8. Your boss loves to hear themselves talk.

They will remind people of their exaggerated accomplishments to push their ideas and proposals. Narcissists will use their soapbox to put others down and be disruptive in order to make themselves feel as powerful and influential as possible.

9. Your boss enforces hierarchy.

Because they cannot relate to others as equals, they tend to socialize only with others who hold a position they feel is at their level. They won’t even entertain having a conversation with you about something they feel is not at your level or within your responsibility.  


10. They demand to be admired. 

Because the narcissist needs to be the center of attention they dominate meetings, presentations, phone conferences, and email discussions. They use those opportunities to flaunt their achievements and stolen credit and constantly exhibit a “look at me and what I’ve done” attitude. 

Common Employee Complaints of a Narcissistic Manager

These complaints demonstrate a lack of emotional intelligence among leaders such as micromanagers, bully bosses, narcissistic managers, indecisive bosses and more.

  1. Not recognizing their achievements
  2. Refusing to speak with them because they aren’t at the same level
  3. Not giving clear direction but blaming for failing to do it right
  4. Taking credit for their work 
  5. Not offering constructive criticism or feedback
  6. Not having time to meet with them
  7. Refusing to talk to them on the phone or in person, only through email/chat
  8. Not knowing their name or constantly calling them by the wrong name
  9. Not asking about their life outside of work

How to Deal with a Narcissistic Boss

Calling them a jerk or criticizing their behavior only makes them worse. If possible, let the narcissistic boss know about the respect and support you have from other important people in your organization. The following tips will also help in dealing with a narcissist.

  • Play to their strengths – because narcissists are charismatic and charming they are great to have around in initial meetings or in the early stages of change management.
  • Use flattery – because a narcissistic boss loves to have their ego stroked and affirmed. Speak their language but with self-awareness so you can make what you want out of the situation.
  • Make them feel important – especially when delivering negative feedback because if the narcissistic manager can feel important they will accept the feedback more readily. 
  • Know their predictable patterns and behavior – doing so will help you know when to stay quiet and when to speak up.
  • Quickly respond to misinformation – it is important to correct what is said about you as quickly as possible so other’s don’t believe those criticisms of you.
  • Respond don’t react – if you have to step away do so because you need to respond in a way that keeps you in control of options and choices.
  • Set a firm boundary and stick to it – boundaries help you know what behaviors are and aren’t acceptable.
  • Trust but validate – because narcissistic managers exaggerate their accomplishments fact check everything.
  • Don’t allow them to get to you – narcissists thrive on getting a rise out of people because it makes them feel powerful. 

It will never be easy to work with a narcissistic boss and the best thing to do is just walk away. Set boundries and limit the abuse caused by a narcissistic manager because the psychological impact is hard to overcome. 

The only positive that comes from working with a narcissist is that they will be the most difficult personality type you will ever have to learn to work with. 


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Jason Cortel is currently the Director of Global Workforce Management for a leading technology company. He has been in customer service, marketing, and sales services for over 20 years. In addition, he has extensive experience in offshore and nearshore outsourcing. Jason is an avid Star Trek fan and is on a mission to change the universe by helping people develop professionally. He is driven to help managers and leaders lead their teams better. Jason is also a veteran in creating talent and office cultures.

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