We are all familiar with narcissists. If indeed of late this has gotten much play in the political arena, it is a phenomenon not unique to it. Narcissism, at least in its most subtle form, can emerge among those who are so confident in their vision and capacity that celebration of self may replace or subvert their originally intended agenda. At that point, they begin to view the world from their own unique perspective. Everything is filtered through the lens of self-aggrandizement and their insecurity.
Those who work with and around the narcissist–those who believe in the underlying agenda but are wary of the self-focused intent of the leader–are challenged with dealing with the narcissist on a regular basis. Specifically, surviving a narcissistic leader demands pragmatic political skills and continuous focus. There are at least six things that you should keep in mind:
1. Keep your eye on the agenda. Keep asking yourself what you’d like to accomplish. What are the specific concerns that drive you? What are the intentions you’re pursing? Don’t let the whims of the leader lead to you drop the ball. If the collective has a goal that you continue to believe in, then it is easier not to be affected or taken off course by a needless side path.
2. Bide your time. Don’t overreact and jump on every comment and every point. Every action doesn’t deserve an equal counter-reaction. Sometimes a reaction can be nothing. There are some things that you can let pass. As your mother might have told you, “Pick your battles.” With a narcissist, everything isn’t a battle unless you make it one.
3. Be deliberate with feedback. Don’t hesitate to give feedback when necessary, but make it specific and concrete. You have to tow the line. But, at the same time, you cannot engage in half-truths and petty obfuscations. You aren’t doing yourself or the narcissist any favors if you sugarcoat the truth.
4. Have a red line. Understand at which point the agenda is completely undermined to the point where you can no longer support it. Even if you are so committed to the cause, something the narcissist says or does is too out-there, too outrageous that you cannot keep up even the most tight-lipped support. Know when it is time to cut bait, and do it swiftly when the time comes.
5. Be careful not to feed the flame. Don’t over ingratiate yourself with the leader. Some narcissists feed on the adulation and kowtowing of others. If your narcissist is like this, pull back. Don’t give him or her positive reinforcement for acting in a way that is frankly not acceptable.
6. Seek support from others. Sometimes there is strength in numbers, but be careful who you confide in. What you view as a getting something off your chest, others may view as ammunition that they will use to fire back in your direction. So, seek support, but be aware that others may not share your motives and intentions.
In the final analysis, it may be the case that you cannot survive the narcissistic leader because you find that your core values are being violated. At a certain point, the narcissist may so overwhelm you that you have no choice but to move on.