It’s Narcissist Friday!  


I recently read that a narcissistic former CEO is being considered as a candidate for president. This former CEO nearly destroyed a major US corporation and left, of course, with a multi-million dollar severance package. The suggestion of narcissism is not mine, but the assessment of many who have watched this person’s career and have seen the piles of the dead along the path. Who could imagine the damage this person could cause as president?

On the other hand, some people think this is just the kind of person we need in leadership. Narcissism is increasingly seen as a positive characteristic among leaders. And narcissists are found in almost every type of leader position offered in our culture. Spiritual leaders, military leaders, political leaders, organizational leaders, even local and small group leaders are often narcissists.

Leadership positions draw narcissists like parties draw college students. Even if they aren’t particularly interested, the people around them push and pull them into leadership. Almost all the narcissists I have known have been in some leadership position, usually in churches. Narcissists love leadership, and our culture loves to have narcissistic leaders. It seems to be a marriage made in… well, not Heaven.

Now, before I go much further I have to acknowledge that I do not believe true leadership can be accomplished by a narcissist. In my heart, I believe that leadership really is people-centered and empathic. But that’s why I have a small church, some would say. That’s why I have never been a significant leader, others would say. For our culture, leaders are people who can make things happen.

Narcissists can make things happen. Let’s think about why. What characteristics do narcissists have that make them “good leaders” in our culture?

One of the first things we have to understand is that political maneuvering is in the nature of the narcissist. They cultivate friendships, learn secrets, and manipulate others with extraordinary skill. They sense leadership opportunities, know when a co-worker is weak, and watch for administrations to make changes. In other words, narcissists prepare for leadership. They might even cultivate dissension within the organization so leadership opportunities will be available. Many will take lesser positions as a way of putting themselves in line for the “big one.” When leadership is defined as political prowess, narcissists almost deserve to be leaders.

It is common to speak of the poor “people skills” of the narcissist, but that can be an error. Narcissists may have poor relationship skills, but they know people. Politicians, preachers, doctors, and others rarely rise to leadership positions without working with people. In fact, we could say that, from a certain perspective, narcissists have much greater people skills than most of the rest of us. What is sadly true is that narcissists don’t care about people. They use people to accomplish their purposes; but they can discard or abuse without hesitation because people are simply objects for them. Many leaders today are in their positions simply because of their ability to use the work and skills of others. They bring little that is applicable to the organization, except their willingness to use others and the understanding to see who would be able to accomplish what is needed.

Perhaps the most hated and most popular characteristic of narcissistic leaders is the disconnect they have between their goals and the pain of others. If the goal, for example, is to increase the value of company stock, the leader might decide to cut the number of employees. Knowing that the job market is difficult, the leader is confident that remaining employees will work longer hours under more pressure to make up for the loss of the others. Employees who quit under the pressure will easily be replaced, if necessary, by younger employees earning less pay. If closing a plant in one location can be made to look like progress for the company, the local workers who lose their jobs are of little concern. This has been happening around the country for many years.

So consider this. Narcissists…

Have extraordinary people skills

Don’t see people, but assets

Rarely suffer regrets

Are limited by few scruples

Have no qualms about making decisions that hurt others

Have little or no hesitation to use others and discard them

Does that look like leadership in politics or business to you? It may even look like leadership in your church. These are the people who are credited with turning small companies into great ones. These are the ones who grow large churches, and who get themselves elected to public office. They run much of the world in which we live. Shareholders, church members, and organizational volunteers are happy with the new energy they bring.

Until. You see, there is one characteristic about narcissists that is rarely noticed at the beginning of the relationship. The narcissist cares only about himself. If shareholders are happy, he can mold his contract to whatever benefits him the most. Who do you suppose manipulated those incredible severance packages given to departing CEOs of failing companies? If the church members are happy, or at least the ones who matter, the pastor can have his extra vacation, his travel opportunities, and his work/leadership team. The narcissist takes care of himself. And when the company struggles, the CEO simply cashes in and moves to another organization.

So what are we finding in organizations, churches, businesses, and governments today? Weak structures unable to handle the normal pressures of change. Self-serving leadership at nearly every level. Depleted asset accounts. Abuse of people, money, and reputation by leaders, and inability of the organization to discipline or hold leaders accountable. Distrust of leadership is epidemic in our culture, yet we have never been so dependent on the government or the company. We feel trapped, yet the addiction moves us to be excited with news of the next change.

Narcissistic abuse explains so much of what we see in our culture, particularly in leadership. Those who are concerned need to understand what is happening and why. Narcissists might seem like great leaders; but, in the end, all you have is a narcissist.


Filed under Narcissism

30 responses to “Leadership

  1. JPK100

    Dave, once again your analysis of the narcissist is both straightforward and profoundly nuanced. You have an insight that many, even those among us who were raised by narcissists, sadly lack.

    What troubles me most about narcissists, especially those in leadership, is the people who put them there. They seem to have turned denial into Olympic sport. As troubled as i am about a narcissist in a leadership role, I’m that much more troubled by the sheep who blindly follow him.

    • ck72

      It seems like the sheep who blindly follow have: 1) no experience with a narcissist and do not understand that their motives are far less than pure or 2) identify with the narcissist’s goals and see association with the narcissist to be to his or her own benefit or 3) have been manipulated by a narcissist previously (perhaps in childhood) and, though the relationship is painful, find interactions “familiar” and therefore “normal.”

      Trying to alert people to the dangers of a narcissist is difficult, especially in the church, where exposing bad behavior is seen as being a divisive troublemaker who is not submissive to leadership. Many, maybe most, churches are ill-equipped to deal with malevolent leadership. Perhaps we have elevated the trait of being “harmless as doves” far beyond being “wise as serpents”.

      • UnForsaken

        ck72, Thank You for this. ❤ I loved the word "malevolent" too. It certainly describes this kind of abuse well!

  2. Reblogged this on Ladywithatruck's Blog and commented:
    How many times do we hear the victim say, “I’m not sure he is a narcissist, he is so well liked by everyone. He is a prominent businessman in town, or the town preacher, or a highly respected cop. ” A narcissist “knows what side his bread is buttered on”, he knows he has to be nice to the people who can give him what he needs. He can present an image of the benevolent leader while screwing over the (or literally screwing) the little guy all the way to the top. Eventually his true colours show but by that time it is usually too late and he has caused destruction and moved on.”

  3. Great post! I have been studying and researching lately about leadership and our need as a society to shift our understanding and expectations of our leaders. I picked up the book “Tribal Leadership” which focuses on the language of leaders to facilitate and foster healthy and successful businesses and organizations. However, I can see how a narcissist can easily “fake” the language and “fake” success.

    A truly great leader must be empathic and possess the pragmatic, get-your-hands-dirty skills of those he/she is motivating. Narcissists are lacy by mature and always sponge off the hard work of others. How do we put an end to that?

    Well, I say those of us who work hard and produce need to start calling out those who attempt to steal our work as their own. We need to be willing to stand up for our values and have the confidence and conviction to point a finger of truth the direction of the liars and manipulators.

    We vote from our hearts in this country and that’s how narcissists win elections and board member roles. So this indicates that what we really seek are non-narcissists with compassion, a strong moral compass and a confidence that will make hard choices easier.

    Narcissists are posers at every turn. They don’t care about he greater good or the success of the individual worker, citizen or community. Why would we want people like that continuing to lead us? It’s almost as if we need to look to a co-leadership model where the President and Vice-president are equally accountable and responsible for decision making.

    We can help change the landscape of leadership and how we define good leaders. It starts by being accountable as individuals and instilling the same values in our children simply by modeling better and more compassionate behavior.

    Those poser narcissists aren’t able to fake it forever. They inevitably crash and burn, their misdeeds catch up with them and people finally see why blind faith isn’t always the best position to take when it comes to leaders. 🙂

  4. CS

    Oh, I believe you’re speaking about Carly. Yes, living in an HP area, I’ve followed her escapades throughout the years, and I think you are right on in your assessment. Sad but true.

  5. So much of this rings true, but isn’t it heartbreakingly sad? I think the discovery that I have been used by a narcissistic church leader has been the most devastating experience of my life. It’s very difficult sometimes to see the good that God will surely work out in my life as I recover from this exploitation. Thank you for writing and helping me to grow in understanding. I really value your Friday posts.

  6. Seeing the Light

    TonyJoy, I just want to tell you that you are not alone. I, too, was USED by a narcissistic church leader. He was so trusted and beloved by everyone. I thought he was a spiritual giant! It’s a long story, but in addition to the spiritual damage and manipulation, which was mind-boggling, he also used my skill set to profit himself. Worse yet, by following his counsel and vision – because he knew God so much better than me, right? – I ended up taking hits physically and financially, with lasting damage. It is indeed devastating on every level. One thing that brings me a little solace is meditating on Genesis 50:20. “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” If Joseph was never outside of God’s sovereign protection and tender love, but He allowed what was done to him for a higher purpose, then He can surely do so with me, and I think, you. I have also learned so much that I can teach my children that I don’t think I could have learned any other way. God bless you.

    • Thank you so much, that is encouraging and comforting, I really appreciate you taking the time to reply xx

    • Discerner

      You have no idea how much your comments resonate with me, Seeing the Light and TonyJoy! I was under the influence of a narcissistic church leader for about two years. She was a chaplain at my university and “took me under her wing” at a time when I was extremely vulnerable because of some events happening within my family, including my mother going through some serious health issues. I’m coming up to 6 weeks of no contact, and finding a lot of support through sites such as this, but I’ve felt at times like no-one really understands because most people seem to experience narcissistic abuse at the hands of a partner or a parent.

      My faith was definitely used as a weapon against me, and a very powerful one too. After all, how could I argue with a chaplain and a leader within a religious community, not to mention someone much older than myself who was very charismatic and seemed to be loved and admired by so many people? Even after everything I’ve read and all the support I’ve received from friends and from a counsellor I struggle with the fear about whether she could be right, and that it’s ME who is the problem, and whether I’m deceiving myself and distancing myself from God. I’m struggling so much with prayer, especially since this person has had a huge influence on how I’ve prayed over the past two years, so not only am I having huge trust issues, but I can’t help but be reminded of her and everything that’s happened every time I even think of prayer.

      I’ve had to walk away from so many friends, and I’m aware that if anything comes down to her word against mine of course I’ll lose out – after all, she is the well-known and respected leader, and I’m the one with all the “issues.”

      I guess I just wanted to share my experience with people who might understand a bit better than most.

  7. Jeff Crippen

    Excellent article. The Apostle Paul admonished the Corinthians for being so easily duped by narcissistic power brokers who had crept into the church. Worldly notions of greatness conclude that power and control over others is evidence God is blessing such a person –

    20 For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face.
    21 To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that! But whatever anyone else dares to boast of-I am speaking as a fool-I also dare to boast of that.
    2 Corinthians 11:20-21

  8. Penny

    “But that’s why I have a small church, some would say. That’s why I have never been a significant leader, others would say.”
    Pastor Dave–I think I am safe in saying that for those of us here on your blog, this IS our church, and it is safe, & so very significant. I know you were not fishing for compliments or validation, but for me, it is so true. This week has been one of yet another disappointing betrayal & acknowledgement of the insidious effect[s] of narcissism in the church, & just when I think I have seen it all, another “church” caves in to N “leadership”, bullying & marginalizing, not to mention false teaching, power & control. Like the foolish Galatians, “you were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? Who has bewitched you? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” A little leaven, a little narcissism, goes a long way.
    Decades ago I put to memory that “I’d rather be alone with Jesus than in a crowd without Him”. Your “small” church is blessed to have you, as are we here in cyber space. I’d rather be here on this blog than in most churches. I am grateful for you and this refuge. I do not need the crowd, or the leaders of the mega-churches. I just need Jesus. Blessings~

  9. joy

    This is so right on the money:
    “narcissists have much greater people skills than most of the rest of us. What is sadly true is that narcissists don’t care about people. They use people to accomplish their purposes; but they can discard or abuse without hesitation because people are simply objects for them. ”
    My ex does these things as easily as he breathes. I don’t think he even has to think about what he is doing. He sways the people around him with charm, and his abilities which he uses to benefit those who can be of use to him. Or sometimes he uses those abilities to benefit those who cannot benefit him, except by his using his generosity towards the poor as a PR tool…you can bet that he makes sure everyone knows what he did for that person.

    Unfortunately my ex has done this the most in our church, since our divorce…as a way of sticking it to me, so to speak. I used to be very involved, and he was seldom involved. Taking over friends and pastor and committees at church is away of taking yet another important thing from me. I’ve stayed involved at a much smaller level, and kept the few friends he has not been able to schmooze. At least I know who my friends are, if I don’t head up boards anymore, I can handle that.

    What slays me, is that our pastor is either in the dark about these people, or he is so easily under their spell. My ex never much cared for our pastor. Even called him names in the privacy of our marriage. Yet when he started turning the charm on my pastor (who was a close personal friend of mine before all this) pastor was so swayed by the sense that he was important and was now friends with ex. Ex played him like a fiddle, and pastor still hasn’t a clue. What hurts the most is that he knows how ex treated me, and he still let himself be charmed.

    Since all this has happened, I’ve taken a look around our church, and started to see why it seems to be stagnant. It is a pond full of people with strong narcissistic traits, who are busy using the ones who don’t understand what is going on. Last year, I watched as a N at the top of the children’s ministry pitted her staff against each other until the whole program almost fell apart. A good program, full of good volunteers was almost trashed by someone who couldn’t stand to share the limelight. This year what has happened? She is at the top of the program again, with a new, greener bunch that hasn’t been involved at church very long. Our pastor let her stay in the position of leadership, and allowed her to handpick her volunteers…so she has chosen people she can easily manipulate. Our pastor is nearing retirement age, and maybe that will be a new start for our church.

  10. Megan

    Yes because church seems to support the Narcissist i don’t currently go to one. This blog has been my only help. I am devastated and barely coping right now. People are surely nothing to them and they use and abuse everywhere to get what they want. There is no end to it. I have written a couple of poems i would like to share on here but i understand if you don’t want to keep them on. I just wanted to share and here is the only place i feel pple actually ‘get’ the damage these monsters cause.

  11. Megan

    I know what you are, but I don’t know who. I’ve seen the darkness, and felt it too.
    Your distorted perception and compulsive lies, your unfelt emotions, jekel n hyde.
    Your fear is exposure but you can not stop, spinning that web of toxic mess.
    It’s what you do, its what you are, it fuels that fire, that burning desire.
    But your not alone, for I too played your game, feeding your ego and taking the blame. It’s you! It’s you! You always proclaim, then you lift your head and feel no shame. Leaving me lost in the ashes of doubt, but look what you did! I try to shout.
    But I’m wasting my time, cause you really don’t care, as long as it is hidden, nothing is forbidden.
    I pray for the next woman, who gets stuck in your web, that she may be free from the disease in your head.
    Your God like status, at least in your mind, leaves me wanting your favour to find.
    That beautiful love you seem to express, I know its not real but im stuck in your web.
    I hate myself for playing the game. I’m taking the blame, yet again. Am I crazy? I often ask. No, it’s you behind the mask.
    Destructive and painful destroying my soul. Yet you’re loving and caring, at least that’s what im told.
    I want to believe that you do have a heart. But ive seen the deception, right from the start. You think I don’t know? Or you really don’t care. As long as I play, the part and im here.
    You may be this way for the rest of your life. For you cannot control it, you cannot withhold it.
    I’l always love you, in some strange way. That sad little boy who just wants to play.
    Insecure, you never felt love. Just expectations of who you are.
    I want to help you but I know I cant. I must go away and make a fresh start.
    I know what you are but I don’t know who.
    May God save you, that is my prayer for you.

  12. Megan

    I am the shell of a Narcissist’s wife,
    With distorted views and blinded eyes,

    For I enter his world, full of delusion,
    Which only adds to all my confusion.

    What is real? Sometimes I really don’t know,
    But I continue watching the same ole show.

    Don’t get me wrong, for this is my choice,
    To enter his world and lose my voice.

    For just like him, I find this world safe,
    Away from the harshness, of reality I cannot face.

    For to know that what I thought was real,
    Was only one-sided, not the real deal,

    Hurts too much and I cannot accept,
    So I hide in denial, just to protect.

    So sometimes I borrow the tools of his trade,
    Acting, lying, denial, charade

    But there is a difference, between him and I,
    I can escape this horrible lie,

    This may sound easy but trust me its not,
    For this will make us both lose the plot.

    For letting this go is painful for both,
    Losing this world is what we both fear most.

    So we do this dance, to and fro,
    When it stops, no body knows

    I am the shell of a narcissist’s wife,
    With battered emotions, a hopeless life.

  13. My abuser-husband can’t stand to not be in a leadership position. He thrives on the hiring/firing power and ALWAYS expresses his plans as being the right way to accomplish goals. When his bosses pass over his suggestions he readily proclaims “they are all idiots” and “I can do it better than them!” The times he was fired (and rightfully so) he fumed for YEARS about the persons who called him out on his uppity ways and wrong doings. And talk about using people!—as long as those in his charge are making him look good he plays the thankful boss, but just let these long standing, faithful employees falter to where he has to actually help them and he will angrily say, “I have no time for him!” And he will in a split second take credit for the work he talked someone else into doing or that they volunteered to do.

  14. HDG

    Sadly, these are wonderful poems-wish you’d never had to live them.I’ve lived ’em too.Sometimes I wonder if narcissism is just 1 demon who takes up residence in all those willing to enjoy the temporary fruits.Relationships that are lasting and real are destroyed and cast aside for the fleeting joy of power. Ahhh what do I know….I’m just another (his words )”rebellious woman”…..like all the other women in his life before me .

  15. Megan

    Thankyou seeing the light and HDG. I knew these poems could be understood by people who have lived alongside a Narcissist. HDG i completely agree with what you say about a demon taking up residence in a willing participant. I once found a video on the Jezebel spirit as i had heard it was related to a rebellious wife. What i watched astounded me, it was actually a male pastor speaking to other pastors about this spirit which can also be in men and how King Herod had this spirit. He explained how this spirit in someone tries to destroy others and it sure sounded like Narcissism. It also said about how the victim may have unexplained illness and strange accidents. That is me. Ever since i met my N husband i have had bizarre things happen to me and also felt cursed. I have even had demon experiences myself which i had not had in my life! I don’t tell pple as it would sound like im crazy but i really do believe they are possessed. Especially some of the not right things he has said that a true believer just would not say or think. And yes i have heard that all along too, that im rebellious and just need to learn respect. Sigh…..

    • HDG

      Megan: In my previous reply I use the word demon to mean deliberate conscious actions to harm,control,use and abuse for the “gain”(public praise and power) by the(willing) narcissist.Prayers for you…

  16. Megan

    HDG, I agree with you, i just have also considered and now believe that their is a spirit there that is affecting the Narcissist if that makes sense? Thanks for your prayers. Can i ask if you are still with your husband? If so have you chosen to accept this?
    Thanks for your reply.

  17. Megan

    Maybe i went too far in using the word possessed but sometimes it sure feels like it with the venom they pour out.

    • HDG

      I’m a widow,my husband was a good man,we had a good and lasting marriage.We’d been together since high school.My unfortunate N experience was with the 1st man I dated after I became a widow. He’d met me and my husband several times at a mutual friend’s. He’d had many failed relationships,including ex-wives,girlfriends,(explained by his church friend as “he falls in love too fast”)co-workers,children and several churches. Naïve and vulnerable,I believed his stories of betrayal.His control and eventual abuse were masked as love and the “duty”of a “good Christian “man to protect and lead a woman.He targeted me.I am not blameless.I DID NOT listen to that” voice inside “for far too long! It was only after 5 break-ups/ make-ups over 2 yrs. he asked me if we were headed toward marriage.I didn’t answer right away. Angrily, he gave me a few days to decide. Later, I picked up the phone(to avoid any possible confrontation)told him I wasn’t ready to marry anyone.He launched on yet another tirade about my faults.I called him out on verbal and physical intimidation(including grabbing,doubled fists,yelling)and hung up.PRAISE JESUS! I should have listened to HIM and not him(N)sooner! My heart is scarred,I am lonely, but I am safe and I have learned.Megan,long post but you asked…. Maybe the N is possessed by their own refusal to repent-just a thought……

  18. Megan

    Thankyou for reply HDG, i am really interested to hear other peoples stories. Glad you listened to the holy spirit and didn’t marry him. Wow it seems they do read the same book with what they say and how they react. My N husband also used the ‘it is just my duty as a Christian to lead my wife and family’ as a means to be a control freak. All what u say he has done but then he has tried to modify behaviors over the years which has helped but of course will never cure him or make him face the truth. Yes that refusal to repent is the key. To the Christian N, God is just another source/tool they try to use to get things their way. That is what astonishes me, how they can fake a relationship with God. Maybe they do believe they have a relationship with Him. Who knows. I’m glad that you did have a good marriage prior to that man so you have experienced what a real marriage should be like. Right now i am finding it hard to end my marriage as i don’t want to abandon my husband but then maybe that is what he needs. Just praying for clarity.

    • UnForsaken

      Megan, your poem puts into words my mother’s view too. Struggling with her denial lately, I know she has to be the one to embrace healing and truth, that I can’t do it for her

      It isn’t “abandoning” your husband to give him into God’s hands, even emotionally. God gives great peace when we accept and leave it to Him! ❤

      By the way, your poetry is a Blessing. It has been healing for me to write out all my pain too, but hard to share it, esp. when I feel there isn't a positive conclusion yet. You may just give me the courage!

      • Megan

        UnForsaken, thank you for your kind words and wisdom. I really am trying to give this to God and follow His lead on how to handle this whole situation day by day. I am willing to do what i have to but i feel confused about what that is. Yes distance myself but not sure how much or even how as we have a young child and she misses her father. For the most part he acts reasonably and we get along.

        I think writing out our feelings one way or another is such a relief and really helps lift the burden. Sometimes i write to God when i just can’t find the words verbally. I would love to read your poetry and i’m sure it would help others also. It is being vulnerable but when shared in a safe place such as this it is healing.

        Is your pain from being in a relationship with a Narcissist or is it your mother’s relationship?

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