Something you may not know about my career is that I used to work a lot with corporate clients, especially banks and financial institutions. I would be called in to help managers, key employees and eventually board members deal with stress and burnout. Much of what I saw in the corporate world horrified me in terms of the attitude of the people in charge.
Much of what people learn in business schools and MBA programs center on running a company, team, company strategy and dealing with people within an organization. These programs produce good people with good skills but theory is not always put into practice when out in the corporate world. Corporations and businesses are always under pressure to increase the bottom line and make more profit for shareholders. This puts employees and managers under pressure to perform and make that happen. Unfortunately, many of these businesses will also foster and encourage narcissistic leadership techniques at the expense of the employees. Especially in western business circles, this type of behavior is often seen as positive, go-ahead and ambitious but disguises the true nature of what we can recognize clearly as a narcissist leadership style. We all know the sort. Management by fear, no empathy, claiming collective achievements for themselves and allowing others to face the consequences of failure in terms of job loss. They are often the first to rage, shout, insult but suddenly become extremely engaging when the high-ups appear. Turnover of staff in these organizations is high and burnout and stress are usually at epidemic proportions. I have seen this first hand and it is the norm, not the exception. As with all narcissist types, he or she will have a self-esteem void that needs filling. Unable to do this on their own, they will look too the supply around them to do it, namely the employees or members of the team they manage.
Much of the information on the internet concerning narcissism and codependency, deals with relationships and indeed that is an area where the “dance” is frequently played out. However, we have to realize and accept that codependents can also be codependent with their workplace as well and the same “dance” happens there. If we consider the typical codependent behavior of fixing, martyring, sacrificing, inability to set boundaries, saying yes when meaning no and controlling for their own security, victim mentality and enabling then you can imagine that navigating the corporate world with such such leaders in charge can be just as traumatic as being in a relationship with one. One can actually conclude that many companies promote codependent behavior in their employees through their leadership style and organisational structures.
Lets look at how codependents could behave in such a corporate atmosphere described above.
- The “Company Man”. The ever-present employee, never sick, never complains. Identifies with the company. However, takes on more work than he needs to due to the inability to say no and set boundaries. Often picked on by the narcissist boss and put on to do more than he can really manage. Plods along, often goes home frustrated and takes his resentment with him.
- The Enabler. Covers up for others, takes the blame for others and is the matriarch/patriarch of the department/team. Always has a motherly/fatherly ear for anyone who wants to complain about their lot. Will often do extra work just to help someone out. Validation comes from being useful.
- The Agitator/Controller. The one who has to fix everything and everyone around them. They try to dominate and have their views taken on board. Will sometimes see the narcissist boss as their object of codependency and may harbor ambitions of fixing them too. Likely to rage and get angry when dominance is not accepted.
- The Striver. The perfectionist who is being driven by irrational thoughts of self-worth being attached to what they do. A dream for a narcissist boss who can drive them to their limit with one word that triggers insecurity. These employees will often work more hours than needed to get things finished.
- The Victim. Takes everything to heart in an attitude of victimhood. Seeks solace and validation where ever they can. Often the purveyor of negative feeling in the department and extremely sensitive.
Many of the above traits will be seen as positive by coworkers and especially a boss with narcissist tendencies. However, much of the above is fostered by an inappropriate corporate culture that allows it to happen. As with codependents generally, an emphasis has to be put on encouraging them to set boundaries and being able to speak out without fear. Employers can encourage this with the following:
- Not enabling employees codependent behavior
- Recognizing positive non-codependent behavior and validating this
- Making certain job roles are understood and acted upon by empowering rather than enabling
- Fostering open communication from top to bottom (codependents often have issues with communication)
- Set boundaries as an employer and rely on company policies if things do not improve.
- Set defined goals and accountability. Without this, codependents may try to compensate for others.
- Have a healthy corporate culture that rewards realistic achievements and eliminates “narcissist” behavior
- Constructive feedback that looks to constructively help with codependent behavior.