I am noticing a more prevalent use of the label “Narcissist” being ascribed to leaders across the spectrum from Parent to President.

Why do we react so strongly to narcissistic leaders?

Just what is Narcissism?

As defined by the Diagnostic Standards Manual narcissism includes the following traits:

  • A grandiose logic of self-importance
  • A fixation with fantasies of infinite success, control, brilliance, beauty, or idyllic love
  • A credence that he or she is extraordinary and exceptional and can only be understood by, or should connect with, other extraordinary or important people or institutions
  • A desire for admiration
  • A sense of entitlement
  • Oppressive behavior
  • A lack of empathy
  • Resentment of others or a conviction that others are resentful of him or her
  • A display of egotistical and conceited behaviors or attitudes

I believe we react so strongly to narcissistic leaders because they violate one of the core tenants of leadership: To serve the best interests of the group.

“The narcissist has no goals, for he is the goal.” John Haycock

The narcissistic traits are the light side of narcissism, meaning that we can easily “see” them.

What do we get out of labeling a leader “Narcissist”? This is the dark side of narcissism.


We are the victim. By labeling the narcissist and talking to others about the narcissistic one we are taking a hit of that sweet, sweet drug – sympathy.

A Free Pass

We are not “the problem”. They are the problem. If only they would change.

A Sense of Control

When others agree with us that we are being treated unfairly, not only are we gaining sympathy but we are gaining strength in numbers. Two against one is a powerful force.

A Sense of Significance

The narcissist is so focused on their own significance that they have no space to acknowledge the value of others. This does not phase the more mature person who is in relationship with the narcissist. The less mature individual derives a sense of self-importance and significance from the approval of others. It is easier to say “this person is a narcissist” than it is to acknowledge “I derive too much of my own sense of significance from the approval of others”.

Another core tenant of leadership is the regulation of system anxiety. We look to our leaders to be a calming force when tensions get high. The narcissistic leader functions only to regulate their own anxiety. Left unchecked our reactions to the narcissistic leader also function to regulate only our own anxiety. It is much easier to vent to a third person than it is to address the narcissistic leaders’ behavior and the impact it is having directly with the narcissist. It is much easier to label the narcissist than to look in the mirror.

When you shift your focus from the narcissist to your own functioning in relation to the narcissist you change the game.

I will be hosting a zoom chat, free of charge, to discuss “The Dark Side of Narcissism” on June 11, 2020 @ 7:00 pm CST.¬†Email [email protected] to register.


Image by Holly and Chris Melton