There are many managers who can be difficult to work with, but not all of them are bad bosses. Jack Walsh argues that great results are achieved by tough bosses who expect great things from their employees. But bad bosses do exist, and the most common type of bad boss (particularly in more senior managers) is the boss with the character trait known as “narcissism”
The narcisstic manager is driven by a strong desire for power and glory. They often have a high need to be admired by others and are particularly sensitive to any type of criticism. If they suffer a set-back they take this harder than most. They think they are brighter and more talented than other people (even though this may not be true) and so like to tell others how to do their job.
From the employee perspective, the narcisstic manager is self-centred, they exaggerate their talents and abilities and show no empathy for other people. However, from the organisation's perspective these same managers can be seen as independent, visionary and innovative. They are known to achieve results and are not afraid to ask tough questions and so are considered as good at leading in a crisis.
Working with a Narcissist
When trying to manage our manager most of us try to change how they behave towards us. This rarely works, particularly if they are a narcissist. Whilst people, including managers, can change their behaviours, this requires them to be open and self-aware… and the narcissist is neither of these. Indeed Freud stated that people with such character traits are the hardest to engage in therapy (and he was an expert!). So rather than try to change them, we need to adapt the way in which we behave when working with them.
For us to do this it is important to remember that narcissitic managers are more likely to develop effective working relationships with their subordinates when the subordinates have particular talents or skills that the manager feels are personally useful to them. So one way of building a better working relationship is by getting your manager to see that you fully understand and support what they want to achieve and that the ideas you have are, in fact, a way for them to achieve these goals. By aligning your ideas and actions in this way you will be seen as an ally not an enemy.
Learning to work effectively with all sorts of people is a fundamental business skill. And whilst difficult bosses can be a particular challenge, they also create many learning opportunities! By managing difficult people well, our jobs become easier and more enjoyable.