When narcissist leaders silence organisations, the damage can be lethal

A collective silence about leadership problems that are in plain sight arises when no-one dares to be the one who speaks the truth to the leader. Providing constructive feedback to a narcissistic leader is a courageous move. A common survival strategy for the group of people around such a leader is to stick together, and generally say ‘yes’ or nothing at all.

Dark side of leadership

Leaders who are irrational, overestimate their abilities, require excessive admiration, are exploitive, quick to take offense and are vindictive abound in literature on leadership, and exist in all walks of life. Leadership guru Manfred Kets de Vries in his illuminating article The Shadow Side of Leadership describes a number of dysfunctional leadership prototypes: the Narcissist, the Controller, the Depressive, the Abrasive, the Paranoid, the Hypomanic Charismatic and the Neurotic Imposter. Detailing behaviours that characterise these prototypes, saying the first step in dealing with dysfunctional leaders is being able to identify them.

If a CEO is a Narcissist Leader, can anyone do anything to change them?

Hans Christian Andersen’s story ended with people finding their voice and telling the truth to the Emperor, but the Emperor “walked even more proudly, and the two gentlemen of the imperial bedchamber went on carrying the train that wasn’t there.” So no changing the behaviour of that Narcissist Leader!

One child’s action enabled others to speak up in The Emperor’s New Clothes, giving organisations a voice when silence is pervasive due to dysfunctional leadership is not so simple.

  • Enable the team responsible for employee experience to inform the board and leadership team of the real costs of not addressing dysfunctional leadership.
  • Capture employee insights and feedback in multiple ways that connect behavioural and cultural issues not only to levels of employee motivation and engagement, measure their impact on the financial, productivity, customer experience, quality, innovation, brand, commercial value, social value and strategic performance of the organisation.
  • Who captures and delivers these insights and who receives these insights really matters. People independent of the organisation capture insights and provide unfiltered to the organisation’s board and leadership Teams, also shared with the organisation.
  • Ensure board and leadership teams are recruited with skills and attributes of what De Vries describes as a combination of being authentic and open to learning, capable of listening and being challenged.
  • Evidence of desired leadership behaviours influence performance rewards for board, executive and leadership roles.

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