Narcissistic Leadership

Narcissistic leadership is a new term for an old idea. The traditional view of leadership is of charismatic, even heroic individuals who save the day. This is called The Great Man Theory of Leadership. In our more democratic times, we’ve largely abandoned this theory for more managerial or coaching models. We reject this old view as authoritarian, grandiose, narcissistic.

But a form of the old Great Man theory remains. How else do you begin to explain the behaviour and success of a Henry Ford or a Steve Jobs? So business psychologists have made a distinction between productive or healthy narcissists on one side, and leaders who are destructive narcissists on the other.

Michael Maccoby is an academic and coach who has particularly focused on this idea as it applies to the business realm. I’ve written about it for some time, and find it a fascinating, contemporary take on the old idea of heroic leadership. So here’s a collection of links to quality resources about narcissistic leadership. And, since the topic is narcissism, I’ll start with my own!

My Articles on Narcissistic Leadership

Narcissism is Good for Business – Here I suggest some ways in which you could develop your ‘inner narcissist’ in positive ways, and take a test to rate your current score!

Book Review of ‘The Productive Narcissist: The Promise and Peril of Visionary Leadership’ – This is my short review of Maccoby’s main book on the topic.

Political Issues at Work – Political Intelligence (PI) doesn’t require you to think like Machiavelli but it does mean you have to think strategically, something at which Maccoby argues narcissists can excel.

Book Review of ‘All About Me: Loving a Narcissist’ – This is my review of another, more practical book on the phenomenon of narcissism and how to deal with those who have it.

I Have the Power – This is the summary of a talk I gave at a business event in which I argue that narcissism is one of the ways entrepreneurs can use to build their charisma and their brand.

Key Research Papers on Narcissistic Leadership

These are both by Michael Maccoby. The first is the article in which he first put forward his theory. The second serves as nice summary of it, in his own words.

Narcissistic Leaders: The Incredible Pros, the Inevitable Cons (The Harvard Business Review, January-February, 2000)

We Still Need Visionary Leaders (The Washington Post, August, 2009 )

Useful Reviews, Summaries and Applications

Narcissistic Leaders: Who Succeeds and Who Fails by Donald L. Nathanson, MD (Psychiatric Times)

4 reasons narcissists can be highly effective leaders by Shana Lebowitz (Business Insider UK)

Business leaders and narcissism by Alexander Burgemeester (The Narcissistic Life)

How to Work for a Narcissistic Boss by Rebecca Knight (Harvard Business Review)

Do you work for a narcissist? Here’s how to keep your sanity by Anna Hensel (Inc. Magazine)

Lots of the coaching work we do overlaps with developing a healthy narcissism or sense of self-esteem. We’ve worked with entrepreneurs, managers and leaders of other types on this topic…as well as those who have to work with them! Contact us to find out more.

Photo by Masaaki Komori on Unsplash

Assertive Leadership

Assertive leadership is often identified as the one skill leaders need to work on. Not only is it an important trait in itself, enabling leaders to communicate effectively and maintain boundaries. Assertiveness also serves as a magnifier of many other leadership strengths. For example, assertive leaders are more likely to embrace innovation, foster collaboration and act with integrity.

Assertive leadership is often misunderstood as requiring pushy or aggressive behaviour. Here are a few surprising facts about what assertive leadership ideally requires.

Assertive Leadership is Curvilinear

A few studies have researched the relationship between assertiveness and leadership in a scientific way. These are:

What they found is that there is both a negative and a positive link between assertiveness and leadership, depending on the quantity of the assertiveness. Too much or too little assertiveness is detrimental to leadership. But the right amount of assertiveness, while largely unnoticed in itself, serves as a platform for other leadership traits. Assertiveness has a curvilinear, or inverted-U-shaped relationship with leadership effectiveness, rather than a linear one in which they are always directly proportional.

One of the authors put it like this:

When leaders get assertiveness wrong, it’s glaring and obvious, but when they get it right, it seems to disappear. We say it’s like salt in a sauce: when there’s too much or too little, it’s hard to notice anything else, but when it’s just right, you notice the other flavors. No one compliments a sauce for being perfectly salted, and it’s just as unusual for a leader’s perfect touch with assertiveness to attract much notice.

By the way, it’s the same with charisma in leadership – too much charisma can make leaders look less effective, just like too little!

Assertiveness Leadership is Calm

It turn out that people want to follow calm, assertive leaders. Both parts of the equation are important. From a biological viewpoint, assertiveness is related high levels of testosterone, while the calmness is related to low levels of cortisol. These might seem like a contradictory emotions. One way of bringing them together is by adopting the right physical posture, sometimes called a power pose. Research has shown that:

Posing in displays of power caused advantaged and adaptive psychological, physiological, and behavioral changes, and these findings suggest that embodiment extends beyond mere thinking and feeling, to physiology and subsequent behavioral choices. That a person can, by assuming two simple 1-min poses, embody power and instantly become more powerful has real-world, actionable implications.

To find out what these poses are, scientists have studied the body language of alphas, or leaders, both in the animal and human realms. Watch this TED Talk by Amy Cuddy to find out more. Or speak to us about training and coaching on body language. You might also want to read one of our 14 blog posts on assertive communication. And discover how Bully Karma can help you unleash assertiveness on the workplace bully!

Emotional Intelligence and Leadership

Writers and researchers on emotional intelligence and leadership sometimes use the phrase primal leadership to describe their view on the place of emotion in a leader’s role. This seems like a weird word to use. Primal has (at least) two meaning that help us understand why they use it. Something is primal if it is:

  • original, early, first in time
  • primary, basic, of first importance

They believe that emotions are primal to leadership in both senses. Humanity’s primordial leaders where chieftains or shamans who compelled by emotional leadership. And modern business leaders have the task of both driving collective emotions in a positive direction and clearing away toxic emotions. But how?

Resonant Leadership vs Dissonant Leadership

Resonant leaders drive emotions positively, by pulling others through their vision and example. Dissonant leaders undermine the emotional foundations that let people shine. Daniel Goleman has detected six leadership styles, or different methods of showing leadership in different contexts and to different people. It is possible to move between them, and a good leader will do that, even using the dissonant styles when necessary.

The four resonant leadership styles are:

  1. visionary – moves people towards shared dreams
  2. coaching – connects what people want with company goals
  3. affiliative – creates harmony by connecting people
  4. democratic – encourages people’s input and participation

Dissonant leadership styles are:

  1. pace-setting – meets challenging and exciting goals
  2. commanding – gives clear directions in an emergency

Attunement vs Alignment

Some leaders speak of their task in terms of aligning their people with their strategy or goal. This leaves a mechanical impression of the role of leaders: people are objects to be arranged in straight lines, like so many cogs. But support requires the emotional as well as the rational parts of the brain. The concept of attuning more fully describes a leader’s role, with its suggestion of the harmony of the instruments in an orchestra. Attunement requires a direct connection with people’s emotional centres. It achieves this through involving people deeply in the process and allowing them to make decisions about their place in it.

Threshold Abilities vs Distinguishing Abilities

Many leaders find themselves in a position of leadership simply because they tick several of the correct boxes. The have the basic skills that everyone has to have to do the job. This usually amounts to standard mix of IQ, technical skills and personality traits. They are average rather than outstanding in terms of their performance. Leadership experts suggest it is better to disregard the standard criteria if you want star results. Instead, start with high performers, compare them to average performers, and find out what makes leaders in the field. These are the real leadership abilities, or, as Goleman calls them, the eight ‘distinguishing competencies’.

Process vs Program

Once you realise the need for emotionally intelligent leadership at all levels of an organisation, the questions become a matter of how exactly to roll it out. Traditionally, organisations have answered this question by means of one-time training and educational programs. These are necessary but not sufficient. What is required is an entire process that not only fills minds with information, but permeates every level of the organisation.

Such a process not only educated individuals, but also works with teams and the company culture too. Through coaching, it will apply lessons learned and provide feedback on progress. It will take the form of an emotional as well as intellectual journey. Without all these aspects in place, the leadership produces will simple take the form of theory and certificates.

We believe that you can learn emotional intelligence like any other set of skills. The same goes for leadership. We’ve taught and coached EI for over a decade, at universities and for businesses. Contact us to find out what we can do for your organisation.

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

How to Help Remote Team Members Stay Connected and Productive

Remote working is great right? But do you know how to help remote team members stay connected? Building a remote team helps companies to cut office costs and find talented staff, letting employers recruit from a much wider talent pool. Staff love it, too. According to some surveys, remote working is regarded as one of the most valuable perks a company can offer. For many of us, working remotely saves time and money, bringing freedom from commuting and office distractions. As a result, more and more employers are offering staff the option of working from home. A number of innovative companies, such as Buffer and 10up, have even gone fully remote, giving up their offices altogether and building remote teams with staff working from any location they choose around the world.

While there are plenty of positives to working remotely, if you want to help your remote team thrive, there are some key issues to take into account. One important consideration is how to help your remote team cope with the isolation that can creep in if they are working ‘home alone ‘. After a while, some remote workers can start to feel socially isolated and professionally out of the loop, missing regular input from friends and colleagues. If not addressed, that feeling of isolation can have an impact on staff well-being and productivity. It can be a particular problem if only one or two people in your team are working from home, while most of the team are meeting up each day in person. Luckily, there are lots of things you can do to help remote staff feel part of the team.

Build Remote Into Your Recruitment Process

A lot of difficulties can be avoided by making sure you consider whether someone will be a good fit for remote working at the hiring stage. Traits to look for include someone who is self-motivated, independent, enjoys taking responsibility for getting work done, and a good communicator. Be clear during the interview process about how your team works together, and how remote team members fit into that picture.

Get Your Team Communications Right

Good communication is vital when you aren ‘t regularly meeting in person. There are two parts to this – tools, and how you use them. There is now a huge choice of online tools to help your team stay connected, many offering free or low-cost options. Most fully-remote teams quickly ditch email as their main form of communication, preferring online social and task-management tools such as Slack, Asana, and Yammer. These text-based tools offer an informal, easy way to keep team-mates talking and sharing ideas, much like they would in the office. Another option is Sococo, which uses avatars to create the feeling of a virtual office.

Most teams also like to mix in some ‘virtual ‘ face-to-face time, using tools such as Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom or for quick and easy video calls. When there are tricky issues to discuss, a phone or video call is usually a better way to resolve things than a stream of text messages. If you ‘re working across time zones, simple tools such as World Time Buddy can help with scheduling meetings, and knowing who is online when.

Once you ‘ve got the tools sorted, you also need to consider how your team will use them. For example, some teams like to start their day with a check-in (often called a stand-up), where everyone – whether they are working remotely or not – dials in to share a few quick thoughts about what they ‘re working on that day. That can help remote workers avoid the feeling of working away in isolation, unaware of what the rest of the team is up to.

You might also want to agree how and when your team communicates. For example, if you ‘re in different time zones, do you expect remote team members to work overlapping hours and respond immediately to messages, or are you happy to work asynchronously, with team members online and working at different times?

When a new remote-worker joins your team, it ‘s worth taking the time to explain your communication tools and processes, especially if they are new to remote working. And from time to time, reassess how your communication tools and processes are working (and get feedback from the team). As teams grow and change, something that that used to work well may need tweaking. Getting communication right can go a very long way to helping remote team members stay in the loop.

Build Habits That Bring Remote Colleagues Into the Team

If you ‘ve only got one or two remote team members, try to build a culture that ‘s mindful of those who are working outside of the office. Make sure they are included in relevant meetings (even if it is a little bit of extra hassle to set up video calls.) Little things can help remote staff feel included. If you use online tools like Slack, something as simple as a quick Hi, how was your weekend to a remote team member can make them feel connected and welcome. If you celebrate birthdays in your office, don ‘t forget remote team members.

You can also try to find ways to connect in the real world. For example, if your team is going to a conference, you could use that as a chance to schedule some time to meet socially with remote colleagues. Some fully remote companies invest some of the money saved on office space in hosting large-scale company get-togethers, to give team members the chance to bond and work together in real life.

Help Remote Staff to Build Their Networks

If your remote team members are based a long way from your office, you might want to help them to connect to other networks that can give them a more local work community. For example, are there networking events they can go to? Or maybe there are online groups for their sector or industry on Facebook or Slack where they can connect with other people working in the same role?

Consider Paying For Coworking Space

Working remotely doesn ‘t have to mean working at home. We are in the middle of a boom in coworking spaces – that is, shared office spaces where you can rent a desk from anything for a few hours to five days a week. Initially popular with startups, many larger companies are now renting coworking space for their remote team members. There are lots of options in most cities, catering to everyone from huge corporate teams to solo freelancers and creative types. Just to give one example, UK company NearDesk offers flexible pay-as-you-go coworking in many towns.


Things are slightly trickier in rural areas, where there may not be a coworking space nearby. You could encourage your staff to try a Work Jelly (yes, that ‘s really what it ‘s called). Work Jelly is an informal, free coworking day, often held monthly. There are jelly gatherings all over the UK – you can find the nearest on the UK Jelly website. Another option could be joining myworkhive ‘s ‘virtual ‘ coworking community, where a group of us ‘meet ‘ each day to work and network, sharing tips, ideas (and the occasional cat gif).

Train Your Managers on Remote Issues

Managing a remote team member brings a few special considerations. A supportive line manager can really help remote staff to feel that their particular issues are being considered. For example, anyone who manages a remote team or remote employee needs to know about your organisation ‘s remote working policy, which should cover things such as which home-office equipment your organisation will pay for, health and safety issues and so on.

Trust and goal-setting are also key. Managers need to set really clear work objectives, as remote staff are often judged not on the hours they are in the office, but the work they are delivering. To perform well, they need clear deliverables and timeframes, and to know that they are trusted to get on with the job.

Encourage team managers to make sure that remote team members aren ‘t forgotten when interesting projects are allocated, or when training is being planned. If a remote colleague can ‘t make it to the office for training, there are loads of online courses covering most topics.

Encourage Remote Staff to Step Up

There ‘s a lot you can do as an employer to ensure your remote staff don ‘t become isolated. But it ‘s also important to encourage your remote employees to take action to help themselves. For example, encourage them to speak up if they feel they are becoming isolated, let them know it ‘s an issue you take seriously and want to help with. Make it clear that they are full members of your team, and you welcome their input and suggestions. Just because they aren ‘t in the office, doesn ‘t mean they can ‘t lead on a project, take part in training, and have a great career within your organisation.

Hopefully these tips will help you build a happy and productive remote team. If you ‘d like to talk more about all things remote, you can connect with myworkhive on Twitter or find them on Facebook.

Small Words, Big Impact

We listen to lots of speakers, trainers, coaches writers and managers. Many of them use big words, business jargon and technical jargon to impress or bamboozle their audience.

This blog post looks at the small, everyday words that have the biggest impact. I’m thinking of the modern workplace as I write this, but really, they work anywhere.

Words That Manage

First of all, let’s look at words that manage.


  • Recent research suggests that “hello” is declining in the office, particularly when people arrive in the mornings (something I noticed when visiting workplaces as a contractor). The author of an article I read this week suggested that this does two things: dehumanises everyone and makes it much more difficult to approach that person to ask if the report is ready for the meeting (because your first words of the day didn’t even include a simple greeting).
  • Saying hello simply acknowledges another human (something particularly important if you’re in a leadership position), provides an introduction to some friendly interaction, for example “did you get the kids’ bikes ready for your trip?”. It lets people know you see them, you respect them and you’re approachable. It sounds basic, but how many people do you know take time to say a proper hello?


  • When a manager begins with “let’s”, you know you’re listening to someone who is attempting to lead a team, not merely assign them tasks. You can tell the workplaces where people feel part of a supported team. They’re busy with lots of real communication about work, not braincell-zapping, reality TV.
  • Workplaces where there is no “let’s” are instead full of command statements “Get me that”, “Work on this now”). These places are quiet the cortisol is palpable.

“It’s OK”

  • I made a mistake on a client’s report recently. Though the mistake was not fixable, there was no big drama. This client is professional, so I was not expecting drama. But, when I confessed (mortified), they simply said “it’s OK, we’re all human”. (There wasn’t even a parent-style “well, don’t do it again”. They trusted me enough to know not to do it again.
  • Adults who make everyday mistakes in the workplace do not need correction, as long as they ‘ve understood, apologised and done what they could to correct it.


  • When you acknowledge small and large actions (even when no third party is around to witness it) it delivers respect to the recipient.
  • It encourages similar behaviour. Children are not the only creatures that can be conditioned to different (better) behaviour by positive reinforcement!
  • Further, it models good manners to other members of the team. Who knows, someone may even reciprocate one day

“Well done”

  • Have you been watching the UK TV series from Bear Grills, the Island? I’ve noticed that island inhabitants particularly females of an aggressive nature tend to respond well to an older person telling them “well done”. Perhaps all they need is some recognition, not more aggro. It’s not rocket science, is it?
  • When was the last time your manager singled you in front of the team for a task or project well delivered? Is undeserved censure instead the default? If so, it’s probably time to leave. You can’t change the culture of an organisation, but you can choose to get out of it.

Words That Assert

Managers and team members alike can benefit from words that assert.


  • Notice my “no” finishes with a full-stop. Our Assertiveness Programme includes a section on why no should rarely be followed with an explanation or excuse. Someone will always try to solve it for you.
  • It’s a shocker. In many cultures, we’re socially conditioned to please, to make everyone like us. “No” is not about being liked. It’s about drawing a line in the sand.


  • When you need to know when something is going to happen, it’s a good idea to ask the question as simply as possible, for example “When will the project move to Stage 2?”. Clear questions, with as few words as possible, elicit the best answers.
  • It lets the person know that your time is important, but that you also recognise that things take time. We were approached in the last few months by someone who wanted to know how when a website content project would be finsihed (with zero input). Make sure your “when” is said in a context where you’re supplied that person as much information as they need to know how long something will take.

Words That Inspire

And, finally, do your words inspire? I’m not talking on the level of a leader such as Gary Vaynerchuk. Just everyday stuff.

“I got it wrong, sorry”

  • Leaders and others in positions of authority can inspire by admitting their mistakes. It lessens the gap between them and their management team.
  • It reveals confidence and poise. It takes someone relaxed enough with themselves that they can confess they messed up. (Only the chronically insecure insist they don’t make mistakes.)
  • Crucially though, this also opens the door for others to admit to their infractions, leaving room for your team to grow in confidence and professional competence.

“I don’t know, but I’ll find out”

  • Our experience of listening to trainers and coaches in particular, is that the professional ones are OK with revealing their lack of knowledge, even in their own topic. Only narcissists insist on maintaining a fa√ßade of omnipotence.
  • The very best stand out because they get back to you. We spoke to several suppliers recently, did not promise to hire them for anything in particular, and yet one they rang back later with additional information (something they promised, but experience has taught me not to expect). Guess who we’ll hire?

“Are you OK?”

  • We’ve all seen someone upset in the workplace, whether because of trying personal circumstances or because of something that happened at work. The kindest way to deal with it is to get that person somewhere private and ask “are you OK?”. Why? Because it ‘s the human thing to do.
  • Yet often we see it’s opposite: people are ignored, dismissed as emotional (as if that was a bad thing) or punished. That’s the inhuman thing to do. And from a managerial point of view, does not solve anything. Lead from the front. Stand out by ditching the outdated alpha management style of aggressive, rapid decision-making and fierce communication style. Your compassion and empathy show you’re human too. And, that makes for a much more compelling leader.

What small words do you use that have mighty impact? Add them into the comments below, letting us know the context and why you think they work so well.

And, if you need with enabling your team to use words that have a big impact, contact us on 0845 527 0474 or

Beyond the Glass Ceiling (Women’s Event)


There are many business workshops and training events that are designed for businesswomen. Have you noticed how they tend to cover the same sort of themes? Conflict management skills for women. Assertive communication skills for women. Confidence building for women. Isn ‘t all this slightly reactive and belittling? Haven ‘t businesswomen in 21st century Northern Ireland moved past these stereotypes yet?

Beyond the Glass Ceiling is different. Instead of assuming what women need, we will address what real women want. Instead of patronising women by ‘helping ‘ them play catch-up, we will equip women to move ahead. Our workshops will achieve this by addressing some workplace issues with an openness and honesty that is rare, but that everyone welcomes when it arrives. Continue reading “Beyond the Glass Ceiling (Women’s Event)”

What Do Comedians and Wolves Have In Common?


They both have stuff to teach businesses, that’s what! There have been quality BBC articles and vids recently on new sources of inspiration for business development. One was comedy. You don’t have to think too hard to realise that the skills necessary in stand-up – creativity, improvisation, confidence, communication – are directly transferable to the world of work. Continue reading “What Do Comedians and Wolves Have In Common?”

Workplace Excellence with Emotional Intelligence

We are holding a business event at Queen’s University Belfast. This is a one-day workshop.

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is more than just a sign of the times or the latest management trend although it is both. Work has changed to become more complex, fluid and pressured than ever before. There is recognition of the need to maximize individual performance: not just know-how and the ability to do, but how you feel about what you know and do. Continue reading “Workplace Excellence with Emotional Intelligence”