Narcissism is everywhere, but it operates in a particularly sinister way in the corporate world. As the host of Mental Health News Radio, I’ve done countless shows with experts about narcissism in the workplace and I have certainly evolved in my own education around the disorder through my professional and personal experiences.
What I see in organizations where leadership has created a toxic work environment is the prevalence of health issues from mental decline, eating disorders, anxiety, PTSD, or symptoms of complex trauma. Narcissism breeds bullying so imagine a work environment where you are literally in “eat or be killed” mode and something as important as your paycheck is involved. Unlike more supportive work environments, workplaces with a narcissistic leader do not lend to a team spirit environment conducive to productivity.
In the workplace, there are always what I refer to as the characters in the “Narcissistic Leaders” game:
This can be several people, always in rotation, and is the most prized position but also the most dangerous. The cheerleader is the loudest voice in the narcissist’s ear and is always the person(s) endlessly praising and maintaining the “goodness” of their all and powerful Oz.
This is anyone new: either a partner that will bring in revenue or a new employee. The cheerleader is overthrown constantly for “the star” and constantly on guard to keep “the star” from finding out their boss is actually Satan. The star is admired and hated by the toxic leader and will be beheaded when they inevitably lose some of their shine as time goes on. This is a person who can do no wrong and is love bombed in order to bring them into the drama, get them hooked into a toxic bond, and then either managed down into compliance or thrown out of the company.
These are malleable apathetic folk who are easily managed down but do massive dirty work on behalf of their toxic leader. The leader has zero respect for these people but keeps them around in order to keep his/her hands clean when the star or the cheerleader needs to be put back into a manageable place.
Like the toxic village elder that wants no children to go to school lest they become smarter than he or she, narcissistic leaders keep their staff in an ever-rotating pole position of ambiguity, gaslighting, love-bombing, and paranoia.
If anyone other than the leader shines too brightly this results in massive narcissistic injury, a threat to the narcissist’s ego. A beheading is commonplace and the longer the victimized staff continue on in this environment, the harder it will be for them to leave. They do eventually take on the traits of their leader and live in a sheltered yet grandiose bubble of superiority: a ship of fools.