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Team Results USA’s CEO John Kolm is an innovator of 21st century team productivity programs, a best-selling author, and a former intelligence officer. Originally from Australia, John formed Team Results in 1996 with retired business partner and decorated veteran Peter Ring as the end result of an experiment that began... Read more

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Organizational Narcissism – Never Mind You, Let’s Talk About Me

03cIn Greek mythology, Narcissus was a hunter who saw his own reflection in a pool of water and became so obsessed with his looks that he sat and stared at himself until he died. We all know people like that – people who have a grandiose sense of self-importance, fantasize about their own unlimited brilliance, believe that others are beneath them, require admiration all the time, feel “entitled,” exploit relationships, lack empathy, act out of jealousy and are arrogant. Anyone who has at least five of those nine traits can be considered narcissistic.

Unfortunately, organizations can be narcissistic too. All it takes is a few narcissistic personalities at the top, or even just a culture of denial and blame. These are the places that are tiring and unrewarding to work at, where the organization or its decisions are never at fault, where there is no need to self-examine because everything is perfect, where alternative views are not needed because everything is already known. In very competitive environments they generally become extinct and are usually the last to realize, but in less competitive environments, they can limp along in a permanent state of unhappiness, oblivion and compromised productivity.

What can you do if you work for a narcissistic organization? Firstly, understand that this frustrating behavior is always the result of fragile organizational self-esteem, making workplace climate-setters feel vulnerable to the slightest criticism. Therefore, you will need to be the adult in the relationship. Don’t be offended when you are dismissed as not senior enough or qualified enough to have an opinion – dismissal of this type is typical of narcissistic organizations, in which only the most senior people are spared rejection and derision.

Do acknowledge your organization’s grandiose sense of self-importance, but do not accept the role of a lesser being – that simply perpetuates the denial. Don’t start with any direct confrontation of the issue/s, because fear will overwhelm any possible progress. Rather, create empathy, try not to be authoritative (even if you are an authority), and reinforce a realistic (note the realistic) acknowledgement of all that is good and right in the work area concerned. If you can avoid heartlessly exposing reality to the point where you encounter flat rejection, you have a chance of good local interactions where everyone’s limitations – yours, theirs – are acknowledged and accepted.

Let me not make this sound easy. Narcissistic organizations are among the hardest to deal with – even for seasoned professionals – and the keys are kindness, steadfastness and patience.

John Kolm is CEO of Team Results USA, a business specializing in organizational dynamics.

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John Kolm

About John Kolm

Team Results USA’s CEO John Kolm is an innovator of 21st century team productivity programs, a best-selling author, and a former intelligence officer.

Originally from Australia, John formed Team Results in 1996 with retired business partner and decorated veteran Peter Ring as the end result of an experiment that began in 1993. Driven by frustration with the team development options then available to business and government, and with encouragement from early clients, they applied their academic training and practical leadership experience to build the unique approach to team productivity improvement that eventually became Team Results. The company grew rapidly, expanded to a wholly US-owned branch in the United States in 2005, and now operates as a very successful business in both hemispheres.

In 2004 John and Peter wrote the global bestseller “Crocodile Charlie and the Holy Grail” (Penguin, available on Amazon.com), consolidating ten years of work with peak clients into a compelling story about team productivity, leadership in business and government, and happiness at work. The book has been re-published in seven languages and fourteen countries, and a sequel is in the works. John is also the author of numerous articles and papers on team dynamics in the modern workplace, some of which can be found in the News Room at www.teamresultsusa.com .

John is qualified in Psychology from the University of Melbourne, and in mathematics and statistics from the U.S. National Cryptologic School, where he also taught on the faculty. Email him at John.kolm@teamresultsusa.com .

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