“If you want to jump off the porch and run with the big dogs, you better learn to move in the tall grass!”

This is a fun expression that takes a poke at the rigours of climbing the corporate ladder. It is insinuating that, if you want to step up ‘there’, you better know how to play the corporate game.

None of my clients ever like the idea that there is a ‘game’ at play in the working environment. They prefer authenticity, honesty and trust. The problem is that all these valuable human values do not necessarily manifest themselves up there in the higher levels of the executive.

As sad as it sounds, it is an undisputed fact. Bring these important values into the picture and you run the risk of being judged weak and soft. And that doesn’t work as an executive. The executive space demands a different kind of behaviour. You need to flow with the game.

My own personal coach has a great way of explaining it: You can’t play cricket when everyone else is laying soccer. In other words if you are throwing the ball when the game is to kick it, you simply are not going to be on the team. But, you are not required to become the best goal scorer – you do not need to change who you are become like ‘them’. Acting out is good enough.

In the SA business environment, there are basically two types of personalities:

  • Narcissists

. . . . and

  • Everyone else

And the closer you get to the top, the bigger the narcissist you probably find.

What is a narcissist?

According to Wikipedia the narcissist has the following attributes:

  1. Shamelessness:From a psychological perspective narcissists are considered sociopaths – they have little feeling for others but, more particularly, they are unable to feel shame. They will behave in the most unacceptable ways and not feel the slightest bit of guilt or shame;
  2. Magical thinking: Narcissists see themselves as perfect and use ‘magical thinking’ to manipulate and distort situations to turn their shame against others. They love people who they can control, especially people who have a low self esteem. They use them to fuel their feelings of importance whilst at the same time desecrating the poor people who work form them.
  3. Arrogance:This is particular common sign that you are dealing with a narcissist. They thrive on their own self importance and will use any method to debase, diminish and degrade those around them to keep themselves is a superior position.
  4. Envy:Expect a narcissist to continuously keep you in a space of envy. They will make out how wonderful they are with an undecurrent of contempt for what you are and what you represent. This is where the ‘value’ stuff described above comes in. They are incapable of appreciating such values as kindness, compassion, connection and trust. To the contrary, in line with their lack of shame, they will do whatever it takes to keep themselves looking wonderful.
  5. Entitlement:Narcissists expect special treatment. The believe that others should serve them. Because they are so superior they are intolerant of people who fail to carry out their wishes. Dare to confront a narcissist on a decision he has made, be ready for some serious kick-back! Failure to comply their instructions could find you branded as ‘difficult’ or ‘uncooperative’. Beware, they will wipe you out if you attempt to attack their authority (which they unequivocally believe they are entitled to).
  6. Exploitation: This can take many forms but the most obvious is just Taking advantage of people at every turn. They have no feelings of guilt and will do as much as they want to use you for their maximum advantage. Showing a narcissist a weakness will condemn you to a life of exploitation and abuse.
  7. Bad boundaries: In the mind of the narcissist there is no boundary between self and others. You must fall in completely with their expectations. They have no compunction in intruding on your personal space as they believe that the world is for them to be served. You are expected to comply with their demands and they see no separation between themselves and others – you are to serve them. You are expected to be at their beck and call at all times.

It might be interesting to note that the mythological creature that represents the narcissist is the vampire – that says it all. Give them half a chance and they will suck you dry. And they need your low self esteem to feed on – it energises them!

So are the big dogs the narcissistic characters?

Undoubtedly, certainly to some some degree or other.

The ‘learning about running in tall grass’ is how to be with them. How do you, as a high valued individual, deal with this personality type?

That is a discussion for another article. But in the meantime you might want to start identifying these narcissistic individuals in your workplace. Start with your boss. If it’s not apparent there, go up one level. If still no joy, you either are too low down on the organisational chart or you work in a company of very nice people. The latter, however, is rare.