“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 pre-supposes 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 quality human values are usually not present up there in the higher levels of the executive (albeit Steinhoff!).

As sad as it sounds, it is an undisputed fact.

Worst still, by revealing your attachment to these important values, you will be judged as weak and soft. How tragic that we live in world where your adherence to solid human values leaves you compromised!

The executive space demands a different kind of behaviour. It’s a game and if you do not know the rules you will continuously feel marginalised and powerless.

You need to flow with the game.

It’s like this: You can’t play cricket when everyone else is playing soccer. Throwing the ball when everyone else is kicking it, will keep you firmly in the stands!

No need to feel despondent, though – you are not required to become the best goal scorer 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 more narcissists you are likely to find.

Certainly in the South African context, all that nice stuff about principled-based leadership remain hidden amongst the pages of the books of the people who wrote them. Managers will play the principled game but executives do not! Up there, it’s every girl for herself.

So, what is a narcissist?

According to Wikipedia the narcissist has the following attributes:

  1. Shamelessness – “What? Me worry?”: From a psychological perspective narcissists are considered sociopaths – they have little feeling for others. 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 – “I’m right, you’re wrong”: Narcissists see themselves as perfect. They use ‘magical thinking’ to manipulate and distort situations to turn their shame against others. They love people who they can control and use this to fuel their feelings of importance whilst at the same time desecrating the poor people who work for them.
  3. Arrogance – “What’s on it for me?”: 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 in a superior position.
  4. Envy – “I’ll keep you guessing about how I see your value-add”: Expect a narcissist to continuously keep you in a space of envy. They will make out how wonderful they are whilst displaying a contempt for what you are and what you represent. This is where the ‘value’ 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 trash you as weak and soft.
  5. Entitlement – “I’m the king, you’re nothing”: Narcissists expect special treatment. They 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? Then be ready for some serious kick-back! You will not win. They will go to the ends of the earth to crush you into submission. Beware, they will wipe you out if you attempt to attack their authority (which they unequivocally believe they are entitled to).
  6. Exploitation – “It’s all about me. I come first!”: 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 – “My way or the highway”: 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 there 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. They need your low self esteem to feed on – it energises them!

So, are the big dogs the narcissistic characters?

Undoubtedly, with varying degrees of intensity.

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

A lot of the work that I do is helping executives to deal with their narcissistic colleagues.

And win through!

It’s all about tactics and playing the game.