There is a trio of negative behaviours that psychologists call the “Dark Triad”.
They are characterised as psychopathy (being callous and insensitive), Machiavellianism (manipulating others) and narcissism (tendency to seek admiration and special treatment).
Research by Belinda Board and Katarina Fritzon, of Surrey University, has found some evidence that such characteristics of behaviour, often described as psychotic behaviours, are more common in managers and leaders than they are among criminals.
While some would argue that at least a modicum of these behavioural characteristics may be necessary for professional success, there is a level at which they are downright dangerous for a business.
Starting with narcissism, we will be looking at each of the Dark Triad behaviours in our next three blogs.
How to identify narcissistic behaviour
The fictional David Brent, portrayed by Ricky Gervais in the TV series The Office, is perhaps the best-known example of a narcissistic manager. In the real world, arguably US President Donald Trump is a classic example.
Narcissists can be described as seeking reputation and status, wanting to be admired, tending to expect special favours and wanting people to pay attention to them. Their behaviour is often referred to by others as being selfish, egotistical or single minded.
However, whether such behaviour is beneficial or toxic is all a matter of degree. Clearly, at the moderate end of the scale narcissism can be helpful for someone who is ambitious in climbing their professional ladder or successfully starting up and growing a business. It also is characterised by a degree of self-belief and self-confidence which are important drivers of success.
How much narcissism is too much?
According to an article in Fortune.com extreme narcissists may be “know-it-alls” eager to give their opinion on everything and anything but therefore unable to listen, to be self-aware or collaborate.
They can be people with superiority complexes and manipulative in flattering colleagues in order to enhance their own reputation and career.
Or they can be outright bullies or vindictively determined to undermine anyone they see as challenging their status or position.
This more toxic end of the narcissistic spectrum can make life even harder for employees and colleagues dealing with such behaviour in the workplace when they need to focus on challenging jobs, targets and deadlines.
While the general advice for dealing with narcissists tends to be to ignore their behaviour and not to challenge them but this is easier said than done, especially if they are a boss or manager.
In the worst case, a colleague or employee who becomes the focus of relentless manipulation, bullying or efforts to undermine their reputation will be using up considerable mental energy in following this advice, making it more difficult to concentrate on the work they should be doing.
If the problem is more widespread and affecting several people on a board of directors or in a department, it may undermine the ability to co-operate effectively as well as being a distraction affecting their productivity.
It has been said that the acquisition of ABN Amro was down to Fred Goodwin’s ego, but a lack of awareness of how one person’s behaviour can influence a board was the real problem and the reason that led to the wrong collective decision being taken.
Ultimately, the potentially disruptive effects of an extreme narcissistic personality for the business as a whole could have the potential to destroy its ability to survive and grow.