What about the Board?


It’s Narcissist Friday!     


Over and over we hear about pastors, organization leaders, and business leaders who are narcissists. We have seen serious abuses of position and people from these leaders. And one question that is asked when the abuses come to light is, “What about the board?” Most of these leaders have a board, a group of administrators, who should be watching over the actions of the leader. Why were they not doing their job?

For example, one leader of a large Christian organization is now being sued by several women for abuses that happened over the years. In several cases, these actions were brought out before, sometimes years before. This leader resigned, more than once, and was quickly returned to his position as though nothing had happened. There are allegations that the ministry directors, the “Board,” knew about the offenses. Yet, they allowed this leader back and little changed. Why didn’t they do their job?

It is a common story in business also. The board of directors appears to sit by idly while the new CEO makes changes that weaken the company almost to the point of closure. Investors, employees, and the rest of us ask, “Where is the board?” The only answer we can imagine is that the board agrees with the decisions.

Some people suggest that narcissism is a desirable characteristic in a leader. Businesses and organizations, even some churches, want leaders who will shoulder the hard decisions: ruthlessly downsizing employee numbers or taking over other companies, for example. Since narcissists are able to move forward without sympathy for the suffering of others, they are perfect candidates for leading serious change.

I know of one church where the pastor was hired to make the church grow. He warned the leadership that he would make decisions they would not like. He demanded full authority to hire and fire and spend money. He got everything he asked for, and they accepted his warnings. When he moved the church out of the community, sold the building, fired the existing staff and hired new, these leaders allowed all of it. The church grew but lost almost all of the original members, including most of the leaders who brought in the new pastor.

How does a narcissistic leader get by with so much? Why does the board allow these abuses? Well, sometimes the board is complicit from the beginning. The leader simply does what the board wanted to do but was unwilling. Since the narcissist willingly accepts the negative from people who don’t matter to him in order to gain the praise and admiration from those who do, the board gets its way without accountability.

But there may be other reasons a board will sit and allow a narcissistic leader to ruin an organization. First, we have to understand how a narcissist is hired. As I have already said, sometimes the narcissist does just what the board wanted to be done. But sometimes the narcissist comes across as so competent and so desirable that the board feels fortunate to find such a person. You and I would be surprised at how few boards do their homework when hiring a narcissist. The presentation of the candidate overwhelms common sense. Questions are left unasked. Documents are left unread. The information may be available, but ignored in the shining light of the narcissist.

Then, realizing they didn’t do their homework, board members often support the narcissist because they are too embarrassed to admit their failure. No matter what the narcissist does, they support him/her to avoid exposing themselves. This doesn’t only happen in churches or other small organizations. Large businesses have suffered from the same unwillingness to admit fault.

If the board members do begin to see actions or attitudes they don’t like, or if they dare to disagree with the narcissist, they may soon find themselves replaced. When you investigate the boards of most organizations led by narcissists, you will find that the narcissist had a controlling hand in appointing or nominating new members. Supporters from the past, sycophants from inside or outside the organization, are brought in primarily because they will not stand against the narcissist.

And when we ask why these new board members are so supportive of the narcissist, we may discover something truly disturbing. Some are so overwhelmed with admiration and love for the narcissist that they will never see the errors or abuses. They have always been available for the narcissist’s use. They will conspire against anyone who opposes the narcissist/hero, and they will vocally agree with any decision he suggests.

There may also be a darker side. Narcissists are adept at learning about others. They know the little (or big) compromises. They know what it will take to buy the loyalty of some people, and they know what scandals are in the lives others. Some have received “favors.” Others have received threats. By the time the narcissist chooses board members, those members will be unquestioningly loyal.

The board of directors, or whatever it is called in your organization, has the responsibility of representing the people and protecting the interests of the organization. You have a right to expect them to stand up to the narcissist when the abuses begin. But they probably won’t.


Filed under Narcissism

10 responses to “What about the Board?

  1. So true, and my NPD ex confronted the NPD new pastor we got. Nobody in the board stood up with him against the pastor, so he/ we left the church, him in a snit and me sadly but complying. BUT God used that to put us in a church where the Lord opened a door for me to write with the senior pastor. Of course that irritated my then husband, but I see how God blessed me regardless. Can I brag on Gid today? I may be divorced from #1 and widowed from #2 BUT can I praise God that he still blesses me by using me. Four for for as I prayed with four people I met on my walk this morning. God graciously shows me I still have purpose and value to him! God is GOOD and He gets the glory!

  2. Dombeck

    Maybe the real reason God lead me here?

    I have been the soul freelance graphic designer for a monthly publication devoted to the Catholic Church since 2001. It is not funded by the Church. It is a not for profit organization. I am the only paid employee.

    My employer, the editor, is the director of religious education and works directly under a priest that serves a large urban parish. The publication is literally a moonlight job, a hobby and obsession for him. To me, it’s my only income.

    The job has changed with technology over the past decade. I used to work a lot harder and longer at it. I work from my home. It’s almost become easy money. ALMOST. But it takes a very serious toll on my body and mind. The “paper” usually doesn’t get “sent to bed” till wee hours in the morning. It takes me a several days to recover.
    I’ve been the golden girl to a very difficult and powerful man with an agenda for a very long time. Parish members, when they found out what I did, said I must be a saint and asked how I could possibly stand working for him. I laughed it off. “If you think he is bad, you should try being married to my husband.” You see, I almost prided myself in being tough enough to handle the worst of the worst.

    Church leaders rely on volunteers. In order to be an affective leader, fund raiser and financial genius, you need to be what for all intense purposes, appears to be a textbook narcissist.

    Nonprofit organizations and volunteers go hand in hand. “Someone” has to lead, recruit, quickly assess, exploit and move on to the next supply without remorse or guilt.

    My ex N husband explained this to me. He was well acquainted with the practice, working with and managing volunteers in a couple of nonprofit organizations himself. He went so far as to tell me that they (whoever “they” are) train organizers to do so.

    So…it’s what people do. It’s how things get done. A narc in the work place, particularly a church seems like a no brainer to me.

    I was born to a 15 & 16-year old personality disordered couple who, against all odds, stayed married. I went from one bad relationship to the next. What’s normal? In order to get something done, “someone” has to be an a**hole. It’s how the world spins–I believed.

    My dad died. I now have extremely limited contact with my N mother. I divorced the narc that thought he was a nonprofit organization unto himself and his wife and kids were the volunteers. I moved away. Recently got remarried. It’s under damage control. I’m healing.

    But…I kept my job. The miracle of computers and wifi. “My employer had a mild stroke a few months back but he is trying to maintain full function at the same insane pace he did before.

    A board member came to me asking questions about the bazaar procedures and the practices of press night. He also asked about the editor’s association to a mysterious reader/editor, and how this character fits into the big picture and if he is still around. Wow.

    Like an angel of mercy I told him the truth and what a nightmare it was because this mysterious man is still around and gets together with the editor the night the paper goes to press. What all should be done at five in the afternoon goes on till two/three o’clock in the morning. I can hear him in the background. I’m taking verbal instructions from two narcissists obsessed with curly quotes, em dashes, Latin, theological legalism. The two of them have no qualms about ripping apart, and rewriting articles to fit their needs no matter who writes them. They do it at the last minute so EVERYTHING they do does not go through the “board.” It’s a power trip. It’s unethical. It’s a nightmare. and I’m an instrument burning the midnight candle.

    This board member was SHOCKED. He is a professor at a very popular and prestigious religious college. I felt relief was soon at hand. This man is no stranger to publishing practices. He is the chief editor in my view, a real angel. I figured our “mystery” man would come to an end and just go away. I’m not trying to make light of this. Something VERY UNHOLY is going on. And somehow I am and have been a party to it.

    Two nights ago was paper night. I’ve been on the brink of mental collapse ever since. Five minutes worth of work took all night. He was like a messed up GPS screaming at me to take a left turn into a brick wall.

    The mystery man was there. They were ripping and reconstructing, editing away. I was getting corrections, like usual, at midnight, and we are literally not on the same page. I had provided four proofs by now of this 12 page tabloid. My employer is giving me corrections off the originally submitted articles. Try navigating that late at night with a volatile tired man relearning how to read, write and think after midnight.

    98% of all the misspellings, typos, and grammatical errors had been caught before I ever got them. What I do is not rocket science. I make ads. I make it all fit and look pretty. I’ve never understood why I was party to these last minute edits.

    I feel more like an occupational therapist trying to help a sad old difficult and crabby man navigate the tangle in his mind.

    I realized yesterday afternoon that I get paid very well to let this creepy narc verbally abuse me over the phone, under extreme pressure from this other creepy guy, one night a month in a psychological game of their own doing. This mystery dude must be the Devil himself. I detest him. My husband speculated they are sexually involved, and the mystery guy is blackmailing my employer. He’s probably right. I’ve been in denial.

    I’m not sure going back to the board member will help. I am quite sure it won’t. It’s dirty nasty stuff. I just feel it.

    When I started working for this organization, I felt it was for a greater good. But over time I realized it was an ego trip for academics. It’s purpose is lost on the desks of the leaders. It’s just a game. Stroking themselves is the purpose.

    I don’t believe in it anymore. And although I’m a hundred miles away and keep my clothes on, I feel completely exploited and used.

    So my husband says, “You’ve cleaned house on all the rest of the narcs in your life. It’s time to let go of the last one. It’s time to quit.”

    He’s right. And I can’t stop crying. I need the money. Can I find another job? And who is to say another employer won’t be a narc? Exploiting my services is what employment is all about. Right? Anything has to be better. Right? What is wrong with me? This is the last bad apple to go. And I am devastated.

    It’s just a job. But it’s ripping at my soul.

    • For your own health, let them go. It will be ok. I worked for 2 narcs at the same time. I achieved most of the goals allocated to me but started not playing their control games. I was sacked, on a Sunday evening. I danced & cheered. I panicked as it was my only income. It is a terrifying thought to not have an income, but the stress of dealing with these Ns did do more damage.The narcs asked for 24/7 commitment to the business, made me doubt myself to the point I was not thinking; my brain & thought process felt like they were trapped in a bog, or a heavy dough that I could not knead to get clear thought. It has been almost 4 years since I was sacked. I am happier, healthier & as busy as I want to be, working with people I like & respect. How the ex-employers are faring? don’t know & don’t care. & I tell anyone who asks exactly that

    • Annette

      Dombeck, can’t you, as a freelancer, find new clients and dump this one as soon as you don’t need him anymore?

  3. Mark

    I was on a board of a Christian organization. Everything was designed around keeping board members in the dark. We were explicitly told that we were not allowed to talk to staff or ministry participants out of the chain of command. Only the “official” communications processes (through the President) were allowed. Only a select few of the board members were informed about many of the details, even though the by-laws said that we were all to be informed. We received the meeting agenda and a ream of supporting documents (financial statements, meeting minutes, etc.) when we arrived, even though the by-laws said we were to receive them at least a week in advance.

    Even in that, people were chosen for the board who were essentially rich cheerleaders. I was the only person who had a “bad” experience with the ministry on the board, and there was NO interest in trying to figure out why people had bad experiences. Potential donors were turned away because of reports coming out from people hurt by the ministry, but the VP of Development who brought this up in the board meeting for the first time was fired within six months.

  4. Melody

    I believe this issue of boards is a problem at Liberty University, where someone who was trying to protect the reputation of the place with conservative Christians gets fired while the son of the founder is able to stay despite provoking the controversy by endorsing a narcissist for president.

    • Kathleen

      I do not know any of the presidential candidates personally and therefore will refrain from labeling any of them as narcissistic.

  5. woundedbychurch

    A couple other scenarios for boards and narcissistic leaders:
    a) The board consists of narcissistic members and because they are comfortable working with someone like themselves, they will hire a narcissist. Strange as it may seem, narcissists tend to clump together. Watch a known narcissist in action, they will be drawn to vulnerable targets or individuals like themselves – the others aren’t worth their attention.
    b) The narcissistic leader is successful in growing the church, raising money, attracting attention, and the board members like being on the inside enough to ignore the damage inflicted to achieve the goals. The numbers don’t lie, the leader is doing enough good things to ameliorate the bad ones and the being in the aura feels good.
    c) Narcissists are often drawn to rescue situations where they can be turn-around heroes. A board wearied by division, infighting or financial trouble will be attracted to a take-charge leader, and the narcissist is hired. The board wants healing and a chance to move forward, so they hand the reins to the narcissist and won’t confront even when they are disturbed by the leader’s actions.

    • Mark

      d) The board assumes that everyone is doing their best job. The evil is outside the organization trying to get in and the best approach is to circle the wagons and have all the guns facing out. When members of the board ask for accountability within the organization, the tone is “a house divided against itself cannot stand”.

      This happens in churches as well. Just read of a pastor in Colorado who had sex with a 12 yo congregant. The congregation (even her adoptive parents) rallied around the pastor and kept everything secret. It wasn’t until another member got fed up and called the police that anything happened.

  6. More than twenty years ago, when I was president of a church board, I had never heard of narcissistic personality disorder. When our pastor retired and I was told that it was my job to find a new one or else do all of the sermons, I found… whew… yes… I found a narcissist. Oh, but he was so superior in every way! He was too good to be true, for our little congregation located in the middle of nowhere.

    Yes, he was too good to be true.

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