From Pet to Threat to Disgraced
Narcissistic leaders modelling narcissistic leadership
Not all people who exhibit narcissistic traits express them as obviously as bullying.
Sometimes the narcissism is expressed as engaging with only those who are perceived as influential to forge bonds of unquestioning loyalty and support to help their own star and status rise. But beware, if your star starts to rise too high, you might be perceived as a threat, accused of disloyalty and made to pay for your success.
Here’s a scenario that has emerged from personal experience and eyewitness accounts. It’s a cautionary tale of what could happen when you want to facilitate change in an institution or relationship that professes to want change but is hardly ready for what will be required of them to do to make change possible.
This is how a typical story goes…
You’ve been recruited or accepted to take on a role as a lead or co-lead in a workplace initiative, collaboration or project to facilitate culture change or resolution of long standing issues.
The one in power grooms you by taking a strong interest in you, making grand overtures to take you under their wing. They do so by exaggerating their success and denigrating or invalidating others’ work performance and ideas to convince you that choosing them is going to guarantee success. They ensure you know how special it is that they’ve CHOSEN you. This also applies to people are not VIPs but act like their idea or project will put them, and thus you, on the world stage. Once you feel like you’re in the with those in power and influence, if you perform too well so that you receive recognition, compliments and attention for your work, this leader will find ways to fault you and make you the target for all their problems. This is because you’ve now outshone them, their position of power seems threatened and now they are retaliating to make you regret that you ever tried to out do them.
This is vengeance.
They start to remove responsibilities making you feel invalidated, incompetent or inadequate.
You start to doubt yourself and question your abilities and competence. You lay awake at night wondering what you’ve done wrong, feeling guilty and ashamed about the rejection you’re experiencing that no one else seems to notice is occurring.
You hear their criticism in your head while still seeking their approval and hope that you can regain their favour. They give you justifications for unplanned or spontaneous changes in your role or agreed plan. You eventually become one of the people who is denigrated and invalidated publicly, the scapegoat, for failed projects. In the time that this has been happening, they’ve already been grooming their next protégé. By the time you’ve experienced the full extent of falling from grace, the narcissistic leader has moved onto their protégé, your replacement.
Perhaps your bias suggests that the leader is male. These behaviours are genderless and are products of toxic workplace cultures and a primal need to survive and succeed at all costs. This is essentially what narcissism is about.
What to do if you discover this is what is happening to you?
I give some pointers here. Need additional pointers? Ask!
Finally, if this story describes an experience you’ve had, I’m curious to know how you managed the workplace dynamics moving forward. Feel free to respond below.
Thank you for reading and for your thoughts on this topic,
Nathalie Martinek, PhD
The Narcissism Hacker
Thomas, K.M., Johnson-Bailey, J., Phelps, R.E., Tran, N.M., & Johnson, L. (2013).Moving from Pet to Threat: Narratives of Professional Black Women. In L. Comas-Diaz & B. Green (Eds.).The Psychological Health of Women of Color: Intersections, Challenges, and Opportunities (pp275-286). Westport, CT: Praeger. (added 12/11/2021)