likely possible actions are to help or hinder the realization of the executive’s goal. This improves the actual behavior and strengthens the coach’s credibility.
Building self-confidence takes time, as it did in
Simon’s case. But gradually I could see him become
less needy and more prepared to share the limelight.
He slowly began to empathize with colleagues and
become an effective mentor. All in all, his behavior
was more grounded in reality and better attuned to
the values of the company. The key decision makers there noted the changes and liked what they saw.
When the time came for the CEO to retire, Simon was
selected for the top job.
Unfortunately, narcissists all too commonly regress into their old ways, especially once they’ve
achieved their ambition. For this reason, it’s important to follow up with more engagement. To ensure
the continuity of Simon’s new self after his appointment as CEO, I suggested that he attend a CEO seminar I was running. I felt that these group sessions
with leaders from other companies would help stabilize his new, more balanced self-image.
Manic depression, or bipolar disorder, is another
psychological condition that some executives suffer
from. Like most mental disorders, it varies in intensity, but even relatively mild forms can derail careers
and alienate friends and colleagues.
cissists is to avoid anything that might upset their
delicate sense of self. Typically, their grandiosity is
a childhood coping mechanism compensating for a
sense of inadequacy—of never being able to please
a parent (although parental “overstimulation” without a realistic foundation can have a similar effect).
Narcissists may seem very confident, but that confidence conceals a deep vulnerability.
The coach’s first goal, then, must be to place the
narcissist’s self-esteem on firm foundations, not
destroy it. You must convey respect and acknowledge his or her need to be recognized. Though you
shouldn’t reinforce grandiose self-perceptions
(which would constitute a denial that anything was
wrong with the executive’s way of dealing with others), neither should you accentuate weaknesses
(which could frighten the narcissist). Show empathy
initially to gain trust, so you can begin to try minor
confrontations of individual dysfunctional behaviors.
The key to success here is exploiting two aspects
of a narcissist’s relationships with others:
Transference. Typically, narcissists have a binary
tendency to idealize and devaluate. They’re prone
to transferring their childhood desire to please their
parents onto other authority figures, and a coach is
very likely to be one of them. Experienced coaches
(who stay attuned to the fact that the pendulum can
swing in the other direction) will use this propensity
to establish a more secure working relationship that
allows them to begin confronting the narcissist about
his dysfunctions, pointing out how they’re limiting
him. Simon quickly saw me as an authority figure,
and that allowed me to make mild suggestions about
what actions might or might not improve his standing in the firm. For example, I was able to suggest that
although the corporate jet might well be a practical
asset for a busy executive, it may actually look somewhat ridiculous and perhaps perverse in a context of
cost-cutting initiatives elsewhere—a comment he
took to heart.
Competitiveness. Narcissists’ ambitions can be
used to motivate them. With Simon I once went too
far in a criticism, making him angry. He tried to persuade Agnes to cancel my engagement, but when we
reminded him that he’d been assigned a coach because of his high potential to succeed the CEO, he was
willing to continue, and over several sessions I managed to restore equilibrium. The challenge in drawing
on ambitions, of course, is to avoid fueling the narcissist’s grandiosity. It helps to keep conversations
tactical. Tacitly accept the ambition and discuss how
COACHING THE TOXIC LEADER