Skillset New Zealand Blog

Ideas to help your team develop personally and professionally.

He may seem like a star candidate for the job - confident, positive, an amazing CV, maybe charismatic. It's time to dig deeper.

Confidence is healthy, narcissism is not

We Kiwis can be excessively sensitive to immodesty, but just being immodest doesn't make you a narcissist.

Listen out for big talk, self-absorption and a strong sense of entitlement. You could say, 'that's my teenager', but some of the symptoms are normal for them. It's a sliding scale too.

About one adult in a hundred has a Narcisstic Personality Disorder that seriously disrupts their lives and harms the people they live and work with. The symptoms include a grandiose sense of self-importance, arrogance and self-absorption.

In the United States, researchers report that narcissism is an epidemic and the prevalence of the more serious Narcissistic Personality Disorder is keeping up. They expect countries like ours to follow.

Watch for narcissistic traits

Let's focus on people who don't qualify for the Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but whose narcissistic traits put them well up the scale.

In a job interview, narcissists come over as confident and successful. They can create a sense of urgency that tempts you to hire them before anyone else does. Keep probing.

Jeff Simpson of Ethos Consulting Group, tracked 75 graduates at one the big consulting firms for his PhD at Massey. He reports that within a year managers rated the performance of the 10 narcissists as near the bottom for the sample group. All have since left the firm. Jeff Simpson says, 'Narcissists are never the smartest guys in the room'.

Narcissists don't work as hard - they feel they are entitled to success without the effort.

Their sense of entitlement and self-absorption can be startling. A manager once told me about a conversation with a young staff member long after she should have started a project with a looming deadline. The staff member explained that she had decided not to do it because it wouldn't help her in her career.

Narcissists don't collaborate, lack empathy and insight and they're intolerant of criticism. They don't play well with others and they'll probably damage your team's morale. They can be bullies. Researchers say it's not because they lack self-esteem (as most people think) but, as one puts it, because 'deep down they know they are awesome'.

On the world scale, shareholders have been delighted when narcissistic titans of business moved in to rescue companies. The share prices soared as the 'stars' slashed costs - usually with ruthless redundancies. Before long, morale and service plummeted, then sales, then the share price. Everyone lost.

An exhaustive search for the cream of successful businesses shows that their leaders are mostly quiet, modest people with a clear sense of mission. Harvard Business Review reports that such leaders 'go on and on' about how talented their team is.

So what should we do differently?

Maybe we could give more credit to the job candidates who are modest and insightful about their past performance.

Let's also give credit to the leadership candidates who don't have a sweeping plan for their first month in the job, but want to talk to the team and get to know the culture first.

Jeff Simpson, suggests asking, 'What would I not like about working with you?' A long silence might just suggest that your candidate is nervous, but an insightful, slightly self-critical answer could be reassuring.

Top performers base their confidence on what they have achieved. Narcisissts base it on the success they know they deserve.

Top performers have emotional and social intelligence. Narcissists have neither.