Recently, I was called by one of my CEO Coachees (we’ll call him Jeff) who was experiencing quite a lot of stress because his organization, AKA he was getting sued for unlawful termination. The short of the story was that apparently a very well liked employee was reported by her direct supervisor to be underperforming and because the organization was a fee for service type project oriented organization, per the supervisor, the employee was terminated. Further discussion revealed that this particular supervisor was very much a bully and a narcissist and many employees did not feel comfortable working with her. When I asked how many other employees were terminated in relationship to her, I was not surprised to hear that the number was more than a handful just in the past five years.
In my previous blog, I discussed the concept of workplace codependency and how codependents in general could have a difficult time at work leading to very expensive outcomes.
In today’s blog, we are taking another step forward and discussing how codependents could be prey to individuals who have Narcissistic Personality Disorder or NPD. The DSM V (the diagnostic statistical manual of mental and personality disorders) describes personality disorders in general as impairments in personality or in the functioning of that person. The manual defines NPD as difficulties in dealing with their own emotions, referring to others to define their identities and regulate their self-esteem. They exaggerate the feedback of others to regulate their self-esteem.
By themselves, the NPD boss may not pose as a threat, in fact, because they are very goal oriented and their goal setting is geared toward gaining the approval of others, in the workplace, they are easy to be tapped for leadership positions or managerial roles. However, it’s the dynamic of a codependent and an NPD that creates havoc from a Human Capital perspective. NPD supervisors may use the codependent to inflate their self-esteem and to satisfy their own needs both emotionally, politically, financially or all of the above.
Because their expectations of others in fulfilling their needs is incredibly and unreasonably high, it is the codependents that fall pray to this and feel it is actually fulfillable. Their sense of entitlement to a codependent is a sense of urgency and without proper training or prior knowledge, they will follow suit simiar to a circus animal in response to a ringmaster.
A Narcissists self-awareness is very low because they are often times unaware of their own motivations (utilizing the feedback chain as a self-esteem booster)but that doesn’t stop them from acting entitled, above all, know it all, demanding and all encompassing; especially when there is a codependent is on the receiver end, yielding to their needs and demands.
Here are five steps leadership can take to protect the workplace against the unproductive/toxic work environment:
- Employ some type of psychometric testing during the selection process. Many organizations use personality testing for team building and project management purposes. However, a qualified psychologist can help provide your HR with specific questions tied to personality testing that will detect codependent vs. narcissist personalities. It doesn’t mean you automatically don’t hire these personalities. It just means you take the necessary cautions to make sure after hiring, they are supported.
- In addition to a direct supervisor, design the jobs to have an internal job coach. Someone who mentors the employee for career growth but also helps problem-solve during periods of conflict. This individual will serve as a proactive role in making sure the employee feels safe and able to voice concerns and knows their performance is not tied to their feelings.
- Create a culture of no tolerance. If there is high turnover whether voluntary or involuntary under a certain supervisor, it needs to be tracked and mitigated. A Narcissist will have a tendency to undermine anyone’s efforts at the interest of keeping their job and position safe and unique. Take small hints of bullying seriously and take immediate action.
- Don’t expect a big wave if there is trouble in the waters. A codependent’s drive to please, will always keep him/her from seeing early signs or taking immediate measures to make change happen. They may tell a trusted person, but if nothing’s done, they will immediately feel defeated and give up.
- Look for clues where the narcissist may be. Gossiping, being displeased, undermining others, complaining of others ethics or motivations, cutting in or cutting off communication are all signs of how a narcissist operates. At the immediate knowledge of this, mobilize to warn the narcissist that they are noticed.
The difficulty with the narcissistic-codependent dynamic is that it is a very quiet yet brewing concoctions. The codependent is triggered by the narcissist because of their need to please, and the narcissist is triggered by their need for attention. Therefore the cycle is a very vicious and tight one. Looking for early signs will cut through the secrecy and release the bondage that eats at the effective functioning and health of the employee and the organization overall.