Ever wonder if your boss only cares about themselves? Do you dread going to work each day, anxious about the drama and chaos they’ll stir up that day? If your boss exhibits most of these signs, chances are high you’re working for a narcissist.
Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. A narcissistic boss is completely self-centered and lacks empathy for others.
“Narcissists don’t change because they don’t want to change. They want to keep on using and abusing because it gets them the attention they so desperately crave.”
— Anne McCrea
They see employees as objects to manipulate and control to serve their own needs and egos. Your hard work and talent will rarely be acknowledged or rewarded.
Instead, the narcissist will take credit for your efforts and blame you for their mistakes. Working for a narcissist is emotionally draining and can severely impact your confidence, self-esteem, and even your health.
1. Takes Credit For Your Work And Ideas
If your boss constantly takes credit for your hard work and ideas, you may be working for a narcissist.
They see your talent and skills as simply tools to advance their own agenda. Your good work is really just a reflection of their “amazing” leadership. They swoop in at the last minute, act like your biggest champion, and steal the spotlight.
“Narcissists try to destroy your life with lies because they know theirs can be destroyed by truth”
Don’t expect public praise or real recognition from a narcissistic boss. They believe they single-handedly achieve everything and you’re just there to serve them. The only appreciation you’ll get is behind closed doors, if at all.
A narcissistic boss also lacks empathy, so they don’t value your time, personal life, or needs. You exist to make them look good, so they have no problem dumping work on you last minute or making unreasonable demands on your time.
If this sounds familiar, you have a narcissist for a boss. Protect yourself by setting clear boundaries, keeping records of your work and impact, and not internalizing your behavior. You deserve so much better, so start polishing your resume — your talents will be better appreciated elsewhere!
2. Triangulation: They Pit Employees Against Each Other, Fostering A Competitive And Toxic Work Environment.
Your boss pits employees against each other to maintain control. They constantly compare staff performance and stoke resentment between coworkers.
Do they play favorites and change allies frequently? One week they’re praising one employee, the next week that person is in the doghouse and someone else is the golden child. Your boss thrives on this unpredictability and drama.
“Staying in a situation where you’re unappreciated isn’t called loyalty; it’s called breaking down your own heart.”
They also share confidential information about one employee with another to breed distrust and competition. Your boss may tell you that a coworker is slacking off or gunning for your job to make you suspicious of them.
This triangulation results in a toxic work environment where people don’t collaborate or support each other. Employees are too busy worrying about their own status to work as a team.
If this sounds familiar, your boss is likely manipulating staff to serve their own ego. The only way to beat them in this game is not to play.
Remain professional, focus on your own work, and don’t get drawn into the drama. Support coworkers when you can and try to foster a spirit of cooperation despite your boss’s divide-and-conquer tactics.
With a narcissist in charge, you and your coworkers need to band together to survive. Don’t give your boss the satisfaction of turning you against each other.
3. Refuses To Admit Mistakes Or Errors
A narcissistic boss will never admit when they’ve made a mistake or bad decision. Their ego is too fragile to accept failure or imperfection. If something goes wrong, they’ll find someone else to blame.
They may accuse employees of not following directions properly or not working hard enough. The fault always lies with others, never with the narcissist.
“The smarter you become about your narcissistic boss, the less power your boss will have.”
Don’t expect an apology from a narcissistic boss. They lack the empathy and humility to say sorry sincerely. At most, you might get an insincere “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Their ego prevents them from admitting wrongdoing, even for the smallest error.
The refusal to take responsibility for mistakes creates a toxic work environment where employees feel constantly on edge and afraid to speak up. No one wants to be the scapegoat for the boss’s bad choices. This results in low morale, high turnover, and reduced productivity.
If you have a narcissistic boss, don’t confront them directly about their refusal to admit mistakes. This will likely end badly for you. Instead, document specific instances of blame-shifting and lack of accountability. Present a case to HR and express how this behavior reduces work quality and harms company culture.
Back up your claims with evidence and band together with other co-workers who have witnessed the narcissist in action. This approach may motivate HR to address the issue, especially if the boss’s behavior poses legal risks. The only way to create change is through collective action.
Stay professional, remain solution-focused in your complaints, and avoid personal attacks. Focus on specific behaviors and patterns, not character judgments.
This will strengthen your position and force HR to properly investigate. While the narcissist may never change, their impact on others can be reduced through limits and accountability.
4. Blames Others For Their Own Failures
A narcissistic boss will rarely take responsibility for their mistakes and shortcomings. Instead, they are quick to point the finger at others. If a project goes wrong, it’s always someone else’s fault. They constantly make excuses and blame their employees, colleagues, managers — anyone but themselves.
“Narcissists are masters of pathologizing your emotions. They convince you that your emotional reactions to the abuse are the problem, rather than the abuse itself.”
— Shahida Arabi
Narcissists have a hard time accepting failure or imperfections of any kind. So they deflect blame to protect their fragile ego and maintain their image of superiority.
You may find yourself frequently getting blamed for things that aren’t your fault or aren’t under your control. Your boss’s inability to take ownership of their failures can be frustrating and damaging to work culture and relationships.
Some signs your narcissistic boss is blaming others to cover for themselves:
- Makes excuses like “my team let me down” or “no one communicated with me”
- Points fingers at individuals for perceived shortcomings
- Takes credit for successes but blames external factors for failures
- Views constructive feedback as a personal attack and lashes out in response
- Creates a culture where employees walk on eggshells and are afraid to take risks or responsibility
If any of this sounds familiar, you may be working for a narcissistic boss who lacks accountability and sees you and your coworkers as scapegoats for their own flaws and mistakes.
The impact on you and your organization can be substantial, leading to poor morale, high turnover, and a toxic work environment.
5. Has An Exaggerated Sense Of Achievement
A narcissistic boss tends to exaggerate their own importance and achievements. They believe they are superior and entitled to special treatment and admiration.
Has An Exaggerated Sense Of Achievement
Your boss may act like everything they have accomplished is revolutionary or game-changing, even if it’s really quite ordinary or minor.
They take credit for successes that really belong to their team. They demand praise, applause, and accolades at every turn. If something goes well, they make it happen. If it doesn’t, they blame others.
Narcissists build themselves up by putting others down. They can never acknowledge someone else’s success or achievement without tying it back to themselves somehow. Your boss’s exaggerated sense of achievement and entitlement is a way to feed their fragile ego and make themselves feel powerful.
“Stay away from lazy parasites, who perch on you just to satisfy their needs, they do not come to alleviate your burdens, hence, their mission is to distract, detract and extract, and make you live in abject poverty.”
―– Michael Bassey Johnson
Don’t feed into their delusions of grandeur. Stay realistic in your praise and push back against unfair blame. Recognize the contributions of your coworkers, not just your boss. The more people stroke a narcissist’s ego, the more demanding and unrealistic they become.
6. Seems Charming Yet Quickly Becomes Angry Or Impatient
Your charming new boss seems great at first, but their anger is quick to flare.
- They shower you with praise and compliments when you first start, making you feel like the star employee. But soon, their impatience and irritability emerge.
- Minor mistakes that initially wouldn’t have bothered them now provoke an angry reaction. Their moods turn on a dime, and you never know what might set them off.
- When they get angry, they lash out with personal insults and accusations. They blame you and others, rarely taking responsibility for their own actions.
- After blowing up, they may apologize profusely, turning on the charm again. But their abusive behavior always returns.
- They demand constant praise and admiration. If they don’t get it, they become resentful and punishing.
- They take credit for your work and ideas, stealing the spotlight whenever possible. Your achievements are ignored or minimized.
A narcissistic boss creates a toxic work environment where you feel you can never win. Their anger and impatience make you constantly walk on eggshells, damaging your confidence and self-esteem.
Don’t let their charm and empty flattery fool you. If your boss exhibits these traits, keep records of their abusive behavior in case you need to report them to HR. And start looking for a new job — no one deserves to deal with a narcissist.
7. High Turnover: The Team Experiences High Turnover Due To Employees Leaving To Escape The Toxic Work Environment.
A high turnover rate is never a good sign, but under a narcissistic boss it’s practically inevitable. When the work environment becomes too toxic and stressful, the only escape is to quit.
If your team seems to have a revolving door of employees leaving, it’s likely due to the poor leadership and unreasonable demands of your narcissistic boss. Their lack of empathy and self-centeredness creates an environment where people don’t feel supported or valued. The constant criticism, mind games, and manipulation take an immense psychological toll.
“When a toxic person can no longer control you, they will try to control how others see you.
This misinformation will feel unfair, but stay above it, trusting that other people will eventual see the truth, just like you did.
— Jill Blakeway
Rather than show appreciation for good work, the narcissistic boss makes unreasonable demands and is never satisfied. They always want more, better, and faster while offering little guidance or constructive feedback. The goalposts are constantly shifting, so employees never feel a sense of stability or job security.
The high-pressure, anxiety-provoking environment cultivated by a narcissistic boss is simply not sustainable long-term for most people.
Don’t be surprised if you see coworkers resigning left and right to escape the toxicity and preserve their own well-being. No amount of perks or benefits can make up for the damage done by an abusive boss.
If this sounds all too familiar, you may need to consider whether the job is worth sacrificing your mental health and happiness. There are better opportunities out there with managers who will treat you with basic human decency and respect. Don’t feel guilty for putting yourself first.
8. Belittles Colleagues In Front Of Others
Your boss constantly criticizes and belittles coworkers, especially in meetings or in front of others. This behavior is unacceptable and damaging to workplace culture and dynamics.
Your narcissist boss puts down colleagues openly in an attempt to make themselves look better. Pointing out perceived mistakes or weaknesses of others is a way for them to feel superior and in control. Don’t engage or argue with the boss during these episodes. Remain professional and focused on the work.
After the meeting, check in privately with your coworker to offer support. Let them know their worth isn’t defined by the boss’s unfair attacks. Build allies and look out for each other. The more united the team is, the less power the narcissist has over you.
If the behavior continues, you may need to address it professionally and objectively with your boss or with HR. Explain how it’s affecting work productivity and morale.
“If someone treats you badly, don’t lower yourself to their level. Stay toxicity free! Simply do what you can to move on and away.”
— Karen Salmanshon
Give specific examples of inappropriate comments. Suggest the boss provide constructive feedback in private to better motivate the team. You may propose team-building to improve dynamics.
No one deserves to be belittled at their job. Unfortunately, the only way to truly escape a narcissistic boss is to find a new position. But by banding together with coworkers, you can try to minimize their toxicity and take away some of their power over you in the meantime.
9. Obsessed With Status Symbols And Appearance
A narcissistic boss is obsessed with status symbols that portray a successful image. They care more about appearances than actual work or relationships. Some signs your boss may be a narcissist include:
They flaunt expensive clothes, cars, gadgets, and office furnishings.
Their lavish displays of wealth and status are meant to impress others and feed their ego. They think these material goods prove how important and superior they are.
They demand excessive praise and admiration.
Narcissists crave constant compliments and ego-stroking from those around them. Your boss expects you to frequently express admiration for their intelligence, skills, and accomplishments. Failure to do so may result in anger or retaliation.
They take credit for others’ work and ideas.
A narcissistic boss will claim the praise and rewards for achievements and innovations that belong to their team members. They are quick to take credit for successes but will blame others for failures and mistakes.
Image is everything.
Maintaining a facade of success and perfection is central to a narcissist’s sense of self. Your boss cares more about how things appear to others than the actual quality of work or morale. They demand employees put on an act to make them look good.
Lavish spending on image over substance.
A narcissistic boss will pour money into portraying an image of prosperity while skimping on things that really matter like employee salaries, training, or essential resources. Appearances are far more important than functionality or ethics.
10. Expects Special Treatment And Privileges
A narcissistic boss expects preferential treatment and acts entitled to privileges above and beyond a normal working relationship.
Gets defensive when criticized
If you bring up a legitimate work concern, a narcissistic boss will likely get defensive and turn things around on you. They have a hard time accepting feedback or criticism and see it as a personal attack.
Expects praise and admiration
Narcissists crave constant compliments and flattery. Your boss will expect you to lavish them with praise for even small accomplishments. If you don’t, they may get angry or punish you in some way.
“A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship — and you know what, a father does, too. It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a ‘Mad Men’ episode.”
Bends the rules for themselves
The rules apply to everyone else, but not to them. They believe they are special and entitled to special perks, privileges, and exceptions that they deny to others.
Surround themselves with “yes” people
Narcissists prefer employees who feed their egos and always agree with them. If you challenge them or push back, even constructively, they will see you as disloyal.
Takes credit for others’ work
Your boss will have no problem taking credit for your and your coworkers’ work and ideas. In their mind, they deserve the credit and glory for anything achieved under their leadership.
It can be difficult to connect with a narcissistic boss on an emotional level. They lack empathy and the ability to see things from your perspective. Your feelings and needs don’t matter to them.
11. Overpromises And Underdelivers
Your boss makes big promises but rarely delivers. They talk a good game about promotions, raises, and new opportunities to keep you motivated, but you end up disappointed time and time again.
They Don’t Follow Through
Your boss eagerly volunteers you for high-profile projects to impress their superiors but then fails to provide the support or resources needed to actually accomplish the work. They pledge to fight for a promotion or raise on your behalf but never actually take action. Their words don’t match their deeds.
Rather than overpromising, an effective leader sets clear expectations, provides constructive feedback, and follows through on commitments. If your boss chronically underdelivers, it may be time to push back, set boundaries, or look for a new role where your talents will be properly supported. You deserve a boss who will advocate for your success as much as their own.
12. Plays Favorites Among Staff
A narcissistic boss will often play favorites with employees as a way to maintain control and feed their ego. If your boss shows preferential treatment to some staff over others, it could be a sign they are a narcissist.
Gives special treatment and perks
The chosen ones get the plum assignments, promotions, and access while others are left out in the cold. The favorites become extensions of the narcissist and are expected to stroke their ego in return for preferential treatment.
By elevating some employees over others, the narcissistic boss fosters resentment, jealousy, and conflict within the team. They use this divide-and-conquer tactic to keep people off-balance and fighting each other rather than seeing the real problem.
Withholds praise and rewards
While the favorites bask in praise and accolades, the rest of the staff gets mostly criticism and little positive reinforcement. The narcissist uses this tactic to keep people seeking their approval and validation.
Plays people against each other
The narcissistic boss will pit employees against one another to make them compete for favor and approval. They get satisfaction from watching people vie for their attention and praise.
If any of these sound familiar, you may well work for a narcissistic boss. The only way to win in this situation is not to play their games. Remain professional, focus on your work, and don’t get drawn into the narcissist’s web. Set clear boundaries to protect yourself, and if the behavior becomes truly intolerable, consider finding a new job.
13. Gossips And Creates Drama Between Employees
If your boss frequently gossips about other employees or stirs up drama between coworkers, this is a sign they may be a narcissist. Narcissists crave attention and validation, and creating chaos is one way they achieve this.
They pit employees against each other.
Narcissist bosses deliberately pit employees against one another to make themselves feel powerful and in control. They may spread rumors, share confidential information about one employee with another, or manipulate situations to create conflict. This toxic behavior damages work relationships and morale.
They gossip and spread rumors.
Your boss shares private details about other employees or talks negatively about coworkers behind their backs. They spread rumors and gossip to make themselves feel important and like they have insider knowledge. This behavior is unprofessional, and hurtful, and creates distrust in the workplace.
They demand loyalty and allegiance.
Narcissist bosses demand extreme loyalty and allegiance from employees but offer little in return. They see coworkers as extensions of themselves rather than as individuals and expect unwavering support and praise. Failure to provide this can lead to retaliation in the form of abuse, public humiliation, or job loss.
In summary, if your boss stirs up trouble between employees through gossip, rumors, and manipulation, shows a lack of empathy, and demands loyalty while offering little support in return, these are signs you may be working for a narcissist. The healthiest option is often to avoid direct confrontation, remain professional, and start looking for a new job.
14. Micromanages Everything Employees Do
A narcissistic boss who micromanages your every move is a nightmare. They constantly check in on your progress, question your methods, and insist you do things their way.
They Don’t Trust You
Micromanagers don’t delegate because they don’t trust others to get the job done right. They believe only they can achieve their unrealistic standards of perfection. Rather than empowering you, they scrutinize your work and demand constant updates.
They’re Control Freaks
Micromanaging bosses need to control every aspect of how work gets done. They issue overly prescriptive instructions and get upset if you show any independence or initiative. They insist on approving the smallest of decisions and demand you check with them before doing almost anything.
They Make You Feel Incompetent
By questioning your every move and judgment, micromanagers chip away at your confidence and self-esteem. Even though you’re a capable professional, you start to doubt yourself and your abilities under their hyper-critical eye. Their micromanagement sends the message that you can’t be trusted to do your job without their constant input and guidance.
The only thing you can do is remain professional, push back when reasonable by explaining your rationale, and start looking for a new job to escape your toxic behavior. A micromanaging boss will never change, so your only solution is to remove yourself from the situation.
15. Rarely Provides Praise Or Positive Feedback
A narcissistic boss rarely gives you praise or positive feedback for your work.
No Pat On The Back
They expect you to be grateful just to work for them. Don’t expect a simple “thank you” or “good job” after putting in extra hours or going above and beyond on a project. Their philosophy is that you should be doing that level of work all the time, so why should they congratulate you for it?
Rather than providing encouragement or motivation, a narcissistic boss is more likely to criticize your work or point out your mistakes. They may even take credit for your accomplishments and ideas. Your hard work and dedication will largely go unnoticed and unappreciated.
Over time, the lack of positive reinforcement can significantly impact your confidence and self-esteem. You may start to question your abilities and feel like you can never do enough to please them.
Recognize that their behavior says more about them than you. Don’t let a narcissistic boss’s cruelty and lack of empathy make you feel worthless or inadequate.
Find ways to motivate yourself and maintain confidence in your work. Connect with supportive co-workers who do appreciate you. Focus on the aspects of your job you can control and the work you do that contributes value. Don’t rely on the narcissist for validation — you will rarely if ever get it. Ultimately, the healthiest option may be finding a new job to escape their toxicity altogether.
16. Reacts Poorly To Criticism Or Challenges To Authority
A narcissistic boss will not handle criticism or challenges to their authority well at all.
- They see themselves as superior and expect constant praise and admiration. Any perceived criticism, no matter how constructive, will be taken as a personal attack.
- They do not like to be questioned or proven wrong. If you point out a flaw in their logic or argument, they will likely become defensive and lash out.
- Decision-making is a one-way street. They do not consult others or accept input because they believe their way is the only right way. If you question a directive or policy, prepare for an angry outburst.
- They demand loyalty but do not reciprocate. Speaking up about issues may be seen as disloyal, even if you have the company’s best interests in mind. You’ll be made to feel like you’ve betrayed them personally.
In summary, narcissistic boss’ ego is fragile, and they see the workplace as an extension of themselves. Tread carefully if you have a narcissist for a boss, as any perceived insult can set off an unnecessary drama.
The healthiest approach is usually to remain professional, document thoroughly, and avoid direct confrontation when possible. If the situation becomes truly untenable, you may need to consider finding a new job to escape the toxicity.
17. Unrealistic Expectations: They Set Impossibly High Standards For Employees And Are Rarely Satisfied.
A narcissistic boss will expect nothing short of perfection from you and your coworkers. Their standards are unrealistic and unattainable, yet they constantly criticize you for not meeting them.
Your boss piles on huge workloads and tight deadlines that would be difficult for anyone to achieve. When you struggle or miss their unrealistic targets, they see it as a personal attack and berate you for your “failure”. No amount of work or effort seems to satisfy them.
Nothing you do is ever good enough for a narcissistic boss. They are quick to criticize your work and point out your perceived “flaws”, all while rarely offering any constructive feedback or praise. Their criticism often comes across as a personal attack on your character and competence, rather than an objective review of your work.
Lack of trust in your abilities
A narcissistic boss does not recognize or appreciate your skills, talents, and experience. They micromanage you and second-guess your decisions, demonstrating a lack of trust and confidence in your abilities. No matter your qualifications or position, you will never be “good enough” in their eyes.
Working for a narcissistic boss can be demotivating and damaging to your self-esteem. Recognizing the signs of their unrealistic expectations and constant criticism can help you protect yourself. Don’t take their attacks personally, set clear boundaries, and remember your own worth. You deserve to work for someone who treats you with empathy, respect, and trust.
18. Fosters Culture Of Fear Through Threats And Retaliation
If your boss constantly threatens or retaliates against employees, this is a major red flag. Living in fear of punishment or repercussions creates a toxic work environment and damages morale.
Uses intimidation tactics
Your boss may openly threaten to fire or demote you if you don’t comply with their demands or work unreasonable hours. They instill fear in employees to gain control and force productivity.
Narcissist bosses often have a “golden child” employee who can do no wrong, while frequently punishing or retaliating against others for perceived slights. If you’re not the favorite, you live in fear of angering your boss.
Takes criticism personally
Any feedback or pushback is seen as a personal attack. Your boss may lash out or find ways to get revenge on you for expressing a different opinion or highlighting their mistakes. It’s best to avoid directly confronting a narcissistic boss.
A narcissistic boss enjoys pitting employees against each other. They may spread rumors or share confidential information about coworkers to cause drama and distrust within the team. This toxic behavior only serves to strengthen their position of power over the group.
In summary, if your boss uses threats, intimidation, retaliation, and other fear tactics to keep control over employees, this is a sign you likely work for a narcissist. The healthiest option is to start looking for a new job to remove yourself from this harmful environment.
So, there you have it — 18 signs your boss may be a narcissist. The bad news is, if several of these warning signs ring true, you’re likely dealing with a narcissistic boss.
The good news is, that now that you know what you’re up against, you can start to protect yourself. Don’t take the bait when they try to manipulate you. Don’t let their lack of empathy or unreasonable demands get you down.
And if the situation becomes truly unbearable, don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself or start looking for a new job. You deserve to work for someone who will treat you with kindness, compassion, and respect.
Stay strong, trust your instincts, and remember — their narcissism is not your fault. You’ve got this!