Home > NewsRelease > Perils of the Executive “Productive Narcissist”
Perils of the Executive “Productive Narcissist”
Susan Battley, PsyD, PhD.  Leadership Psychologist and Author Susan Battley, PsyD, PhD. Leadership Psychologist and Author
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Stony Brook, NY
Saturday, December 16, 2023


Perils of the Executive “Productive Narcissist”

by Susan Battley
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 executive 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 strategic business thinking or deep industry knowledge and success – and, on the other, exhibits 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 attractive candidates for top leadership positions: 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.
Hiring a Productive Narcissist: A Devil’s Bargain
I find that decision makers usually have a sense in advance that the star executive they’re looking to hire is a high-maintenance professional. Remember, PNs are A-Players with national and international reputations. However, what often happens is that hiring board directors or CEOs override their better judgment and rationalize that they can make the PN hire work in their particular instance. For example:

“Yes, he’s difficult but his cybersecurity expertise is worth the hassle.”

“I’m prepared to spend time coaching her, so she’ll fit into our management team and culture.”

“We’ll sweeten his contract so he’ll play well with others.”
In other words, they convince themselves that they can manage the unmanageable.

Why Productive Narcissists Are Unmanageable
Sooner or later the executive PN’s true personality will assert itself. Here’s why they are unmanageable over the long-term:
  • They don’t believe rules and deadlines apply to them. Rather, they test the limits to assert their specialness.
  • They exhibit a pattern of manipulating or intimidating others.
  • They undo or ignore decisions they don’t like.
  • They often thrive on drama and enjoy “stirring the pot.”
  • They threaten to quit when confronted and held accountable.
  • They are poor candidates for coaching since they don’t see their behavior as problematic or in need of change.
High Costs and Organizational Damage
Productive Narcissists can suck up huge amounts of board or CEO time for hand-holding, firefighting and conflict resolution. Once embedded, they can hold the organization hostage in achieving strategic initiatives or retaining clients or customers. Consider these high costs to performance and reputation:
  • It can be difficult to remove them at critical milestones or junctures.
  • They come with big price tags for severance settlements and litigation costs.
  • Organizational culture is poisoned when their bad behavior is tolerated.
  • Employee morale plummets and turnover increases.
  • Cynicism and distrust of management increases.
“Help, I’m Stuck with a Productive Narcissist”
How do you handle a senior executive PN in your midst? Do not look the other way or hope things will magically improve. Instead, do the following:
  • Act quickly when PNs ignore or violate policies, practices or norms; point out the problem behavior(s) and be specific about expected behaviors going forward. This is especially the case when PN misconduct occurs in the C-suite.
  • Link performance rewards and recognitions (e.g., bonuses and stock awards) to published corporate values and behaviors, not just revenue and profit growth.
If the above actions prove ineffective, face facts and cut your losses by quickly transitioning the executive PN out of your organization. The situation will not improve, and – if allowed to continue – could leave you and your company even more vulnerable to litigation and reputation damage.
Final Thoughts
Productive Narcissists can shine as soloists or when they are fully in charge as an enterprise’s top leader. So it’s not surprising that many PNs become successful founder-entrepreneurs who channel their creativity, charisma and iconoclastic mindset into thriving businesses. If you have your eye on hiring a top executive who displays PN tendencies, consider engaging him or her as a consultant or affiliate instead. In this way you can benefit from their exceptional talent and expertise while avoiding major management headaches.
Copyright © Susan Battley 2023. All rights reserved.
Pickup Short URL to Share
News Media Interview Contact
Name: Susan Battley, PsyD, PhD
Group: Battley Performance Consulting, Inc.
Dateline: Stony Brook, NY United States
Direct Phone: 631-751-6282
Jump To Susan Battley, PsyD, PhD.  Leadership Psychologist and Author Jump To Susan Battley, PsyD, PhD. Leadership Psychologist and Author
Contact Click to Contact