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On April 1st, 2016, Harvard Business Review (HBR) published a post entitled How to Work for a Narcissistic Boss. Given both the date and the title, I was prepared for a prank. Like the HBR cartoons, I hoped for a little erudite satire on the self-perpetuating vanity of corporate culture. Nope. It’s a post offering advice on how to subordinate yourself to someone with a mental illness. An illness described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM-5.
Does the post suggest you might want to “Get out!”? Yes, it does, but I think most people could have come to this conclusion on their own. There are also pros and cons to weigh, principles to remember, and two case studies. The first is about managing your stress so you can take another person’s abuse. The second is about catering to a narcissist’s needs, until you can’t take it anymore. Again, you will need to get out. Why do you need to get out? Simply stated, “Research shows there are a large number of narcissists who become leaders.” You are not a leader, you are a subordinate. It’s not your place to rock the boat. After all, status quo is very important to people with status. Companies that find their status reflected in the magic mirror of P&L statements, spreadsheets and pie charts, are generally not eager to hear you express concerns over a golden goose, especially a ‘high performer’.
What’s truly disappointing is that at no point in this post do we learn how to approach Human Resources with concerns that an employee is suffering from a mental disorder. Yes, a narcissist suffers, along with everyone under their control who are bearing the brunt of the consequences. Sadly, many would find the thought that HR can facilitate a helpful and healthful outcome to this situation humourous.
Subordinates, by definition, occupy a lower class, rank or position; submissive to or controlled by authority. Bullies need power and so do leaders. Is HBR so enamoured with its focus on leadershipthat it cannot distinguish between the two? No wonder there is a pervasive employee engagement problem.