Perils of the Productive Narcissist, Part 1 – Why That Superstar May Be A “Black Hole”

If you’ve been in the workplace for any period of time, you’ve probably encountered someone who fits the description of a Productive Narcissist. In fact, you might have even hired the person yourself, unaware that certain personality traits would turn your star performer into a costly management “black hole.”

What Is A Productive Narcissist?
My definition of a Productive Narcissist, or PN, is someone who, on the one hand, possesses exceptional performance abilities – such as creativity, intellectual firepower or rainmaking prowess – and, on the other, pronounced narcissistic personality traits.

A PN possesses not just one or two of the following traits, but many or all of them.

Common Narcissistic Personality Traits

  • A sense of personal specialness and entitlement
  • Grandiosity and very inflated ego: “Me, me, me.”
  • Constant need for attention and recognition
  • Excessive demands, micromanaging and perfectionism
  • Temperamental or frequent mood swings
  • Lack of empathy for others

Productive Narcissists are often visionary and charismatic individuals who dazzle others with their achievements, charm and promise of future success. This is why they are in such demand: they usually deliver the goods. However, they do so at a very high cost to the organization, its culture, talent pool and enduring bottom line.

PNs can be found anywhere and everywhere that rare talent, creativity and exceptional performance are prized: for example, in business, academia, professional services, the performing arts, sports and public service.

Spotting the Productive Narcissist
PNs can be identified by their consistent pattern of attitudes and behavior over time. For example:

  • They talk about themselves and their accomplishments constantly and in heroic proportions.
  • They regard special privileges, perks and exceptions to standard policies and norms as their right.
  • Their loyalty to the company’s interests lasts only as long as it’s in sync with their own agenda.
  • They have little interest or track record in professionally developing or mentoring others.
  • They may have an erratic employment history, cycling in and out of organizations in two years or less.

Next Month in Part 2: Why productive narcissists are unmanageable, costly and damaging to your organization. Should you ever hire a PN? How to deal with PNs.

About the Author

Susan Battley

An advisor to Fortune 100 executives and world-class institutions for more than twenty years, Dr. Susan Battley is an internationally recognized expert on CEO and leadership effectiveness. Her clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional service firms, and elite research institutions. She has worked with chief executives, university presidents, Nobel laureates, and prominent scientists, diplomats, and educators. A respected media source for analyzing leadership in the context of news-breaking events and key trends, Battley has been featured in outlets worldwide including CNN, CNBC, Fox, Bloomberg, and National Public Radio, and in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Chief Executive, Business Week, United Press International, Harvard Management Update, Entrepreneur, Science, Leader to Leader, Investments, and Worth. She is the founder and CEO of Battley Performance Consulting, a leadership strategy and organization effectiveness consultancy.