It’s Narcissist Friday!
Narcissistic organizations can often be identified by what used to be called the “good old boy” system. Favors and positions are granted on the basis of some secret parameters that are indiscoverable by those not in the system. In other words, certain people seem to get ahead in spite of incompetence or conformity. Leadership is made up of those who are not leaders, at least not in a way that builds others. Instead, major leaders in the narcissistic organization are chosen for their looks or for the image they bring to the organization. How minor leaders are chosen will seem to be a mystery.
In my experience, it doesn’t matter whether leaders are chosen by election or by appointment in the narcissistic organization. The goals of the organization will be accomplished either way. And, somehow, the goals of the organization are different from the goals of the members of that organization.
Many people have joined organizations—churches, clubs, even businesses—only to find that these organizations change over the years. The values and standards become something less than what they were. The church that once stood strong for the truth is now willing to compromise Scripture and tradition. The business that once held to high standards of honesty and transparency now seems to focus only on what will make more money. The club that once was open and welcoming and respectful of others is now filled with cliques and gossip and comparisons. Things are not the same, and it is a mystery how they changed.
No matter how hard you work for the organization or how well you contribute, you are never chosen for leadership. Instead, the ones who are chosen seem to be prideful and willing to use others. Once in a while a good person slips in, but he or she doesn’t seem to last long. If you are chosen for leadership, you may owe certain people or there may be certain expectations of you that were not in place before.
Years ago I became part of an organization with a good reputation. I was honored to be a part of it. However, I was told quickly that the organization was a “good old boy” network. That meant certain people had more respect and privilege than others, based, I thought, on their connections within the group. For the most part, I was right, but there was more to the story as the years went on.
For the next 30+ years, I worked for the organization and sacrificed time and energy for it thinking that I was somehow contributing to a greater good. I held a minor office because I was willing to work. Any greater office was out of reach because I was not one of the “good old boys.”
At the same time, I watched as this organization began to compromise more and more of its principles, even to the point of changing its list of core values. Some of those chosen for leadership had little or no previous connection with the organization. Some were of questionable character but looked good up front. I noticed that dishonesty became almost a leadership requirement. Self-promotion and projecting superiority replaced any idea of sacrificial service.
What I came to understand was that the changes happened gradually as those in leadership began to think of themselves above whatever rules or values the organization held. Candidates for leadership were evaluated by how they could move the organization toward some unacknowledged goal. Values could be compromised as long as the person desired would serve to further that goal.
To put it more plainly, some among the leaders had decided that the organization should grow at almost any cost. New leaders were chosen (elected or appointed) on the basis of their usefulness in helping the organization grow. Solid workers who had done well over the years were ignored simply because their loyalty to the “old” values limited their willingness to compromise. Compromise would be necessary for growth to happen.
So, when you look at your church or business or club and wonder why things have changed so much, ask what the goals are. How do the current goals (even if unofficial and unspoken) contrast with the goals when you first came? You may well be able to pinpoint the time or the leadership that began the compromises and changes.
When an organization is willing to compromise (fudge, equivocate, accommodate, etc.) its values, watch out for the narcissists. The ideal organization—in the mind of the narcissist—is one that claims high and strong values but is willing to “bend” those values behind the scenes. If certain people get treated a little better than others, if some can get by with things or get more privileges, then the narcissists will come in like flies. And the organization will welcome them if the goals of current leaders are different from the stated goals of the members.
Do you wonder why some churches seem to slip toward the “dark side”? Do you wonder why a good business becomes one that sees its customers as only sources of money and its employees as tools to be used? Do you wonder why your club has become exclusive and judgmental? As you begin to see narcissists in leadership, ask what goals were changed along the way and why the doors were so open for the narcissists.