Narcissists in leadership positions

The first impression is misleading, narcissists cause damage.
Narcissists and leadership

Narcissists in leadership positions


Why are so many narcissists in leadership positions and what are the consequences?

Narcissists in leading positions


There is a disproportionate number of narcissists in leadership positions. The desire for dominance and the willingness to make the necessary effort to impress relevant people are typical of narcissism. However, the glamorous appearance is deceptive, narcissistic personalities cause damage.

For this article, I am referring to narcissism as defined by a group of personality traits rather than as a clinical disorder per se.




Willingness to take risks


A common strength of narcissistic personalities is their uncompromising will to achieve results. Their lack of self-reflection does not allow them to be risk-conscious. This is how they push projects and innovations forward.




Public image


Narcissistic personalities spent more time and energy worrying about how they are perceived.

With their appearance, narcissists can be captivating. In good forms or moments, narcissists can succeed in providing orientation and inspiration to other people. Because they pay a lot of attention to their external presentation, they often end up in a leading position.




A high proportion of top positions


What actual share narcissists have in the top positions is difficult to estimate. There are many indications that there are a lot of narcissists. The proportion of people with narcissistic tendencies in leadership positions is likely to be well above the overall average in the population. Narcissists actively pursue leadership positions and are likely to be selected by others. They are naturally more status-oriented and value power.




Narcissism and narcissists


Their appearance, sometimes perceived as charisma, can be very inspiring. Behind the deceptive facade, however, a difficult person is often hidden. If you read the article 36 indications to identify narcissists you will probably have some aha-moments.

It may be that narcissistic traits, when not extreme, and when balanced by other character strengths, have also positive effects. When narcissism is extreme, combined with other negative personality traits, and when it results in leaders making decisions that put their company, employees, constituents, or followers at risk or mislead them, or when a leader’s narcissism makes him unable to take responsibility or prioritize others’ needs above his own, then the costs of narcissism will outweigh any benefits.






Someone probably had reasons why a narcissistic personality got into a leadership position. People with narcissistic structures do not only bring disadvantages. Not all narcissists are incompetent. Some projects benefit greatly from narcissists. However, they often cause tremendous damage that is often only noticed after a time delay.

Since they are not able to maintain real relationships of trust and accept feedback, their view is very limited. The lack of social skills and the overestimation of their abilities have consequences.

Organizations may think that there is nothing wrong with having narcissists in leadership roles. But the risks of narcissism are generally underestimated. Even the benefits of narcissism disappear during difficult and complex times and many leaders display much more than a little amount of narcissism. The awareness of the causes and consequences of narcissistic personalities is still lacking.




Narcissists in leadership positions


In the beginning, narcissists present themselves as enrichment. They disguise themselves to those people with whom they want to make a good impression, as long as it is beneficial to them. Then they take off their mask more and more often and the damage becomes bigger and bigger. A leader’s narcissism can result in decisions that are at odds with the needs and well being of those affected by these decisions.

Mostly those persons who could intervene are still too dazzled by the self-portrayal and the promises made. If the true character is recognized, it is usually very late.




What to do?


What can you do when people in leadership positions turn out to be narcissists?

You could start by looking at the article 30 tips for communicating with narcissists. Dealing with narcissists. Too much is too much!. Then you can look for support in dealing with narcissists. And do it quickly, because it is easier to prevent problems than to correct them. Narcissists are extremely sensitive and never forget even supposed shame. Narcissistic personalities perceive even comprehensible constructive feedback as a personal insult and want to take revenge for such insolence. And yet they know little inhibitions.






Much of what is useful in other situations for good communication and relationship building exacerbates situations in which narcissists are involved. In interpersonal conflicts, narcissists do not go to work fairly. If they consider it necessary, they also accept their disadvantages. This can cause considerable damage, can ruin drive whole companies and the people involved.




Professional support


If you are looking for professional support regarding communication and decision making, feel free to ask me. For legal questions, please contact the appropriate experts. I am here for you to take into account the communicative and psychological aspects.

Help in dealing with narcissists (no legal advice!)


If you wish professional support for your decision-making, communication, or because you suffer emotionally from narcissists, then we can arrange an appointment.

Either you come to me in Berlin or we organize a telephone meeting or use the Internet with a video conferencing system. All these possibilities work very well and have already helped many people.

It's urgent? Thanks to an immediate bank transfer, it is also possible to organize sessions at short notice, often even on the same day.

In any case, you can orient yourself by reading the list with fees. Often a telephone call of 60 minutes is enough.

Every day, I get many inquiries. Some have only one question, others send long question lists, some even call me at night. As much as I would like to help voluntarily, my calendar doesn't allow that anymore. I know, that not everyone has the financial means for professional help. You can then at least use the comment function to discuss issues with other people. Sometimes I also answer questions in the comments. However, the day is full at some point and I ask for your understanding. I am aware of the psychological strain that often results from contact with narcissists.

Preparation of important conversations and negotiations


Communication can be very easy. But often it is not. Sometimes we say things and then later notice from the reaction of our conversation partners that they seem to have spoken to someone completely different. I didn't say that with the best will in the world. - Or did I say that after all?

More or less consciously, conversations are about convincing other people of something - be it a special offer, your personality, a perspective, or a necessity. If this doesn't happen fast enough and above all not exactly to the point and descriptively, the person we are talking to quickly loses interest, and we lose the hoped-for opportunity. — Conversation failed.

You can let me support you in the preparation of your conversations and negotiations (to be on the safe side: no legal advice!). Find out how you and your message are perceived (arguments, body language, language, voice, and much more). I will familiarize you with effective tools and communication strategies. Develop your psychological skills, learn to stay calm, act confidently, remain authentic, and finally convince.

Just ask me personally


Let's get into a conversation. Please post any questions that may be interesting for other readers in the comments. If you are interested in coaching or training, for personal questions about that and appointments you can reach me best by e-mail (, phone +49(0)30 864 213 68, and mobile phone +49(0)1577 704 53 56.

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What thoughts come to your mind on the subject? Have you encountered narcissists in leadership positions? What experience have you had with narcissists?


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This article is a short excerpt from the more comprehensive course materials my clients receive in a group or individual training or coaching.

Published: January 2, 2012
Author: Karsten Noack
Revision: September 28, 2020
Translation: ./.
German version:

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