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July 2017


Narcissists make great Leaders!

800 371 Kamal Karanth

Yes, the title was to get your attention. But you will agree with me after a few minutes about Narcissists.

Many of us publicly admit that we join new employers in search of good supervisors, work harder in our organisations when we like our bosses, leave companies becoz of bosses; Today I am deliberately leaving out obvious things like role, money, brand, organisation culture. These we know are the other parameters in joining, staying and quitting jobs. Let’s get back to the bosses now,

If you are asked what kinds of bosses you like, would the obvious answers sound like

  1. Leads by example
  2. Delegates, gives you space, trusts you
  3. High on integrity, fair, charismatic, thought leader, visionary
  4. Decisive, purposeful, relationship driven, humane….

The list can go on depending on what you have experienced or aspiring for. Not many of us can choose our bosses. But, I am sure we all have the rights to comment, judge, criticise them in our circle of influence. Today is one such exercise of commenting on ‘one’ type of leader.

How many of you have you ever worked for a leader who is a narcissist? Some of you who have worked with me please lower your hands if you have raised it! And for the rest, do I see many of you nodding your head in approval? I know we don’t need to rush to Wikipedia for the definition of a narcissist. A trait which all of us recognise as we see some of it in the mirror daily. That can be called healthy narcissism? Now, to my next question, would you like to work for a narcissist boss? Did you say never? think about it again. I think you should work for one. Not because I want you to learn on ‘how not to be a Narcissist’ but for the benefits you get working for one. Now don’t frown again, I’m not playing mind games here.

 Traits of a Narcissist

  • Special: Narcissists perceive themselves to be unique and special people. Who doesn’t want to be working for people who have high self-esteem?  Are you the kind who likes to constantly motivate your boss to get rid of his/her inferiority complex? Sounds like a nice thought though!
  • Positive: Narcissists think they are better than others. That sounds like most of us!
  • Inflated: Narcissists’ self-views tend to be greatly exaggerated. All of us belong to this category. Imagine yourself while you are being interviewed or during your appraisals.
  • Selfish: Their behaviour portrays them as being selfish. Now selfless people in work life are a rare commodity and we all are selfish, so I would accept that.
  • Oriented toward success: Narcissists are oriented towards success. None of us come to fail to work, we all want success for us, our teams and organisations.

So, tell me if these are the traits of a Narcissist, why wouldn’t you want to work for one? Or if you could tick against all these qualities for yourself ‘feel’ proud to be a narcissist. At least you can be honest to yourself. Am I playing with the term and a few qualifying parameters to support them? Yes, but I know you are smart enough to get the drift!

Narcissist Leaders

Narcissism is a thriving trait in leadership. Some of us develop it after we reach leadership positions. Many of us are born with it. I think it’s an essential trait to have or cultivate to be a successful leader. Leadership is a tough act; people throw a lot of muck at you. You are always under pressure. So, you need to be positive even when the boat is sinking. One must feel better than others to negotiate out of difficult situations.

But, some of these traits that protect are also the ones that can go against you. This depends on where you demonstrate them. It’s difficult to have these qualities and also to contain them as they are part of you. First of all, knowingly or unknowingly narcissistic qualities raise their head even without you realising them. Therefore,  the ‘gurus’ talk about self-awareness as the essential trait for leaders. They also recommend mindfulness for being at every moment to be in touch with the situation. But today I am not here to discuss about how to deal with Narcissism. In fact, I love them 🙂

My Brush with Narcissists

Probably, I loved working with tons of Narcissists. I say this as they loved to be ‘one’ and allowed people like me to gain in the process. Due to their over indulgence with themselves we were allowed into similar zones with our team. I remember even-though we were making  losses some of my bosses would ask us to fly business class with them when we took the same flight. Some others would book five star hotels for us as they wanted to avail the same luxury. Otherwise we had travel and stay in ‘budget’ when they weren’t with us 🙂

In one of my stints we started to move into new offices in rented buildings. My boss used to insist that we have nice metal name plate which had his name itched in it. He used to get great kicks unveiling those boards during office inaugurations. We were in an organisation where leaders quit almost every 2 years. So, we had to remove those boards before the next leader came. Grr! Before, I could get my own name-plates itched I left too 🙂

No Conclusion

Now, let’s not get holier than thou about others. If you want to be a leader you need to get comfortable with certain Narcissist qualities. Actually, we use certain polished corporate terms to describe them. If you sum them all up it would come to one term!

If you are too good to acquire them or display them you will will face another problem. You have to then get comfortable working for people who have them. Period.

As always, now to the narcissist part of my post, and my favourite part….

Narcissist and me? Never!


If you’ve enjoyed reading this post, Feel free to comment for me to reflect on your ‘narcissist’ views

Many moons ago I wrote this post about “who is your favourite boss” contradiction?

Who is your favourite boss?

Work experience

When experience becomes liability!

800 371 Kamal Karanth

When we faced interviews for some of our first few jobs, we may have got rejected for our lack of experience, then we wished we had more experience. Later, every time we got service anniversary trophies we beamed with pride. But now experience is becoming an enemy?

A journalist recently asked me if “Youthification” of workplaces was a big trend. My immediate answer was yes, it is happening, millennials are entering the workforce. She stopped me there. Youthification, according to her, was the forced alteration of demographics at work, when companies decide to skew the workplace ratio towards younger people, hiring more of them and pushing away older/experienced people.

While this has not resulted in enhanced career opportunities for freshers, the career graph for experienced people in some industries is going through some tumultuous times.

At once I recalled a meeting with an IT customer of mine. Just as he was about to brief us on a new project manager, his boss called. Once he was done, he said the position would be on hold, as the management felt they would replace the experienced manager role with a HIPO (High Potential, as they called their graduate hires), and someone from his team would double up for the additional role.

He knew the organisation was trying to cut costs rather than hire an apt replacement. He explained, “Yes, it’s a great way to save money in the short run, but it takes 18 months or so to get the freshers to warm up and be productive. Meanwhile, some of us who are experienced need to work 12 hours a day to ensure projects are running, not to mention the delay in delivery and the client escalations when we put too many inexperienced people on client projects.”

When you lose a client worth millions of dollars of revenue due to your focus on getting the young in, how do you explain the loss? We can possibly hold the guys who are managing the clients accountable, but what about the factors that lead to the loss?

Some correction in the IT industry’s middle layers is inevitable where managerial time had taken precedence over technical skills over the years. But the same cannot apply across industries and organisations.

Would you go under the knife of a surgeon who has passed with admirable grades or of one who has practised surgery for 10 years?

Skills evolve into competencies through practice. In sports “youth” can be an asset in some instances but in professional life skills developed over years are hard to replace. Even with outstanding talent youth doesn’t guarantee success. I passed out of a college where many lecturers had just entered teaching. Some connected with us instantly but most made science difficult to learn as they were inexperienced at teaching.

Youthification is not openly discussed but evident through decisions in hiring and layoffs. In many industries, pure play managerial jobs are getting clubbed with something more specialised for organisations to be satisfied with ROI. Some of these are short-sighted and knee-jerk, but you can’t blame organisations who are under the pump from investors.

The major change in organisation thinking and related customer experience in the last few years is due to technology. One significant but subtle change that CEOs are seeking, not just in start-ups but also in large organisations, is a stronger infusion of younger talent, even in leadership roles. This comes from the inherent bias that younger talent brings more familiarity to technology, which can give firms a competitive edge. The second and debatable aspect is that a younger workforce brings new energy and adapts easier to the rapid and multiple changes organisations go through; it also implies older workers are likely to stall changes.

All of us remember Mark Zuckerberg as the boy who made Facebook an overnight phenomenon. But it is the seasoned Sheryl Sandberg brought the necessary balance to sustain and grow the multi-billion brand. Back home we all know what youth did to some of the housing/e-commerce companies which are now in need of life support. Youth can come up with Uber-like breakthroughs, which are necessary, but only experience can allow scaling up.

So, the next time you see some experienced blokes in your organisation, don’t see them as furniture, think of them as an anchor to take you forward.

Work places which breed college like atmosphere make for some great pictures on social media, but in real the secret lies in the mix of youth and Experience!

You wouldn’t believe that till you get there.