In chapter 2 of The Young Professional’s Survival Guide, titled “Toxic Bosses and Colleagues,” C. K. Gunsalus references advice from Michael Maccoby’s article in the Harvard Business Review, “Narcissistic Leaders: The Incredible Pros, the Inevitable Cons.”
It is my understanding, as C. K. Gunsalus has explained, the central thesis of Maccoby’s theory is that a narcissistic leader can be a good thing for a team, as they have desirable qualities of a leader (e.g., great vision, ability to attract followers). However, in order for this leader to not wreak havoc, this person has to be put in check allowing for the positive aspects this leader to outshine the negative impacts.
That makes sense, even as we consider our individual places in society. We should be constantly trying to illuminate our own positive qualities–not to say this is easy or readily achievable.
C. K. Gunsalus proceeds to say:
“[Maccoby’s] advice to people with such a boss: ‘Always empathize with your boss’s feelings, but don’t expect any empathy back; give your boss ideas, but always be prepared to let him take credit for them; hone your time management skills…disagree only when you can demonstrate he will benefit from a different point of view.”
My reaction: “ummmmmmm, can we say exhausting?”
In my opinion, reacting in such a way enables toxic behavior. That is an entirely one-sided relationship, a relationship we would hopefully be less willing to tolerate in our personal relationships. I understand that work is work (i.e., not a place for personal relationships), and people have bills to pay–especially when the narcissistic boss determines whether one has the ability to pay one’s bills. However, most people spend more time at work during a work week than with those in their personal lives.The work load can be demanding enough on its own. Thus, it is important that healthy, non-toxic relationships are maintained at work.
The advice to “be prepared to look for another job if your boss tips over to unproductive or destructive narcissism,” does not seem like a solution. In lacks accountability. If I , my work, and my reliability are being supervised and evaluated–how is it beneficial for me to be more empathetic to my boss than my boss is to me? If I show up work late, perhaps due to a family problem, I will be held accountable. If my boss consistently shows up to work late, no questions asked.
What are your thoughts? How can we cultivate the positive qualities of narcissistic leaders and perhaps actually get them to be less narcissistic? Is it even possible? Should these types of people be leaders, despite their positive attributes?
Note: this is not me speaking from experience, I am fortunate enough to have amazing advisors with more empathy than I could have ever imagined.