Workplace Narcissism

With the rise of Donald Trump, there is a growing awareness of Narcissism. 

Here are some indications that you may be working for a narcissistic boss:

To listen to a discussion of workplace narcissism, see my podcast here!


  1. Cultivates a “larger than life” persona
    1. Exaggerated hand gestures
    2. Big voice (talks louder than necessary)
    3. All of his stories are “over the top” (sometimes a bit hard to believe)
    4. Can be very attractive, especially at first. There will almost always be someone who believes in this version of the Narcissist. When people begin to see through it, they may be discarded and replaced
  2. Showboating
    1. He has a captive audience, and he monopolizes on it 
    2. He tells jokes nobody finds funny, but people have to laugh
    3. He shares personal anecdotes and details that nobody cares about
    4. Comes in singing out of tune, jovial, as though he is a star, everyone’s happy to see him (they ARE happy he is in a good mood, rather than the alternative)
    5. He shares completely unnecessary health details, stories, etc., as though he is a star, and every tabloid in town (and every employee) would just love to know how he digested that chicken sandwich last night
    6. Does not care about others. When others try to also share personal pain, he uses religious language to downplay their problems, such as saying, “it could be worse,” “what are you complaining about? You dare young!” 
    7. Anything that others share on “good days” may be turned against them as leverage on “bad days.” If you share a weakness, he will consider you damaged goods: you will probably never recover in his eyes 


  1. Holds all forms of power
    1. Purchasing, 
    2. Scheduling
    3. Training
    4. All important decisions
    5. Access to important parts of the workplace 
    6. Access to essential equipment 
  2. His critiques are put-downs, not constructive criticism
    1. Punitive, not restorative discipline
    2. Often public
    3. Often as joke or else as “blowing the lid” (“can’t take it with you guys anymore!”)
    4. No chance to understand how to do better. No warning, way to avert public shaming
    5. Causes one to “scurry” and be anxious (or else give up, exasperated)
    6. NOT training: refuses to take accountability 
  3. Confusing org chart
    1. Based on complex social rules of narcissism
    2. Based on golden child, scapegoat (see below)
    3. No clear line to promotion: need to suck-up to the leader (control)
    4. Leadership structures which are put into place purposely allowed to decay, so that narcissist can be “forced” to run everything 
  4. Takes no ownership/responsibility
    1. “I’m not the boss”
    2. “I didn’t train you”
    3. “You should know that by now!”
    4. “That’s not my department”
    5. Always manages to make things the responsibility of others

Asserting Dominance

  1. Micro-put downs (“Hen Pecking”)
    1. Like a hen, he is constantly obsessed with hierarchy, and will randomly “peck” at others to show his dominance
    2. Pet names
    3. Insults
    4. Jabs
    5. Jokes
    6. “Funny” stories at the expense of others 
  2. Collective guilt/put-downs 
    1. He will refer to everyone else (or everyone he considers beneath him) collectively. He will disparage “you guys” collectively, as responsible for all of the messes/problems. In so doing, excluding himself from the problem.
    2. “You guys never clean up!”
    3. “You guys always break stuff!”
    4. “You guys are so slow!”
    5. “I can’t believe you guys!”
    6. They seem angry, but this is actually what they want. 
    7. They want minions, not peers: they want others to make mistakes, as it makes them look good. 
    8. If others really shine, then the narcissist will create a crisis of some sort to bring the spotlight back onto himself. 
  3. Making a big deal of accomplishments/titles
    1. You know all of his titles, years of seniority, and accomplishments, because he has “let it slip” multiple times
    2. At times, uses his “status” to get his way, try to win arguments, (“If you were working here as long as I was, you would know…”)


  1. Pathological liar
    1. He usually does not tell outright lies, but subtly shifts all of the stories to tilt in his favour
    2. Will shift narrative: 
      1. He was the victim, you were the villain
      2. He was the hero, you were just a minor lackey
    3. It will always, always, always come down to this. He is always either the victim or the hero. His creativity will seemingly have no limits when it comes to recasting the story in such a way as to make himself the victim or the hero of every story. 
    4. If you let him, his story will become the narrative!
  2. Pretends to be friend: but not really your friend
    1. He may want something from you, and is recruiting you
    2. He has good days and bad days
    3. Uses info from good days against you on bad days
    4. People may say, “It takes a while for him to warm up to new people.” Actually, he just has no use for people with no training, as he refuses to ever give anything to anyone. Once you are trained, you are useful to him. When you are no longer useful, he will treat you like garbage again. 
    5. Constant threat of firing you: no regard for you personally 
  3. Two-faced
    1. How he is in private
    2. How he is in public, around superiors, from the pulpit

Narcissistic Rage

  1. Narcissistic Rage
    1. In a split second, narcissist can fly into an incredible rage, with fury so intense that it can mark people for life. However, narcissists are often careful to only show this rage in carefully chosen locations and to certain people. When called on it, they may say something like, “Oh, we were just having a discussion. I guess we remember things differently.”
    2. The root of narcissistic rage is the deep insecurity that rages inside of a narcissist
      1. They likely did not have healthy attachments as a child 
      2. They may have had significant traumas as a child
      3. They may have deeply internalized shame, and self-loathing
      4. They seem to have found that the only way to feel whole is to push others down, and force others to give them attention — both positive and negative — and distract them from their troubled internal world
      5. …at times, they can strategically allow their inner turmoil to “spill over” in a tremendous flood of anger, vitriol, and sometimes violent behaviours and profanity
    3. Behind the scenes, narcissistic rage is the unspoken organizing factor of the workplace:
      1. They have been told, “it is your fault” that the pastor flew into a rage
      2. Employees are very careful not to do the same things again
      3. Employees begin tip-toeing around the pastor, and become very fully controlled, as they fear awakening his rage

Structural Issues

  1. Poor communicator 
    1. Expects you to read his mind
    2. Likes having you off balance 
      1. Jokes/insults rather than giving clear instructions
      2. Teases you about a mistake. “Oh, do you want me to stop doing that?” “Oh no, I just though it was funny!” (Left wondering what he means. “Do you want me to do that or not…?”)
      3. Uses sarcasm, laughs when saying something serious, may use unnecessarily long words and otherwise uses confusing language to purposely confuse others. He will then blame the confusion on them. 
    3. Discourages people from asking him questions: he may be grumpy, or threaten to go into a rage if disturbed (this is particularly troubling because he has also set up the organization so that literally everything needs to go through him) 
    4. Does not prioritize basic communication (clear emails, texts, meetings, simple commands/statements)
    5. Secretly Enjoys chaos. Secretly enjoys it when communication breaks down to where he has to storm in “as the saviour,” yell at people, gesture emphatically, and put everyone and everything in its place. This is a very good day for his ego!
  2. Supplies: no consistency
    1. Big show of purchasing
    2. Waits until supplies run low
    3. Blames employees for “using them up”
    4. Grumbles, complains “I just bought a bunch!!”
    5. No system, no plan
    6. Encourages hoarding, materials from home

Creating a Toxic Workplace

  1. Divide workplace 
    1. Golden child
    2. Scapegoats
    3. Everyone in between
  2. Everything someone’s fault
    1. Never boss
    2. Forces hiding
    3. Forces blame shifting
    4. Punished self-reporting

Summary: A toxic workplace is

  1. Divided/cutthroat/gossipy
  2. Tense/on edge
  3. Performance driven (may lead to short-term gains, at the expense of company longevity and employee health)
  4. Poorly managed
  5. Quality goes down/nobody cares for “meta-structure”
  6. Those who can, leave
  7. Attracts narcissists and codependents. Affects long term culture. If there’s one, there will be others. Do you reward work or politics? You get what you design for. 

Is this a goood way to operate?

  1. It is a way to operate. It works. Better than no leadership. Probably best in some crisis situations (eg. military, short-term projects, competitive game-shows, or when one leader has significantly more experience than others/employees can’t be trusted)
  2. It could be much better, with healthy leader
    1. Less competition 
    2. Clear leadership
    3. Good training 
    4. Delegation
    5. No petty holding on to purchasing, schedule, etc.
    6. Longevity/Productivity/returns I Ruth long run. Long term employees 
    7. A team spirit/cooperation. A sense of pride 

Effects on self

  1. Second guessing lose confidence (gaslighting) 
  2. Questioning judgment, competency (“you never…” becomes “I never…)
  3. Angry, frustrated, rage, no outlet, (called over sensitive, pathetic, can’t take a joke)
  4. Trouble sleeping: overthinking the day, your narrative vs. pastor’s narrative. 
  5. Becoming catty, playing game. Obsessed with status, winning favour, avoiding blame, divisive.
  6. Performance driven issues: perfectionism, never satisfied, image-driven (body issues)

…a sort of death/rebirth…

  1. Lose yourself
  2. Question your mind
  3. Angry: learn to release anger (“submit”)
  4. Into your head: dreams, obsession, stress, “circle-thoughts”
  5. Begin playing the game: competing, seeing others as the problem, believing narrative
  6. Working harder than ever, serving, sacrificing, unsatisfied with self
  7. …eventual discard…

How to deal with it?

  1. Become strongest/best version of yourself
    1. Find healing: get what you need elsewhere 
      1. Counselling
      2. Great personal relationships
    2. Keep work at work, home at home (if it is a toxic workplace)
      1. Division between family and church if not healthy
      2. Seek health first!
  2. Stand up for yourself 
    1. Push back against silencing tools:
    2. Get some space
  3. …speak your own truth
    1. Not yelling match, but
    2. Careful records, mental notes
    3. Might be worth doing reports Do not let him control the narrative in your mind!
    4. Ways to present to superiors
    5. Need to play the game:
      1. Keep track of what you do. Shine
      2. Keep track of when things break, enough to say, “that wasn’t me” (may need yo report, but not helpful to make enemies)
    6. Ideally, he will come to
      1. Find you useful
      2. Find arguments are usually lost
      3. Fear you slightly (reports, documentation are powerful) but not TOO much
      4. Grudgingly accept you
      5. Find a niche in the organization 
  4. Don’t let him shift the narrative! 
  5. Speak truth (but cautiously)
  6. If possible, find way to transfer to better job

Want to hear more? Listen to my discussion of Narcissism on my podcast!