Leadership Spotlight

Self-Centered Leadership

People learn much from hard times, bad examples, and, even, defeat. This certainly holds true in their working relationship experiences with leaders who promote themselves and act selfishly.

At first glance, self-centered leaders may be difficult to identify. Perhaps, they find it easy to appear as organizational supporters, mission-driven people, or, even, individuals who genuinely care for the well-being of those they supervise. However, as their subordinates realize over time, these leaders tend to make decisions and take actions that boost their own welfare, career, or reputation. Many examples exist of actions that such self-centered leaders may take.

  • Work-related travel: Self-centered leaders will take advantage of desirable or potentially career enhancing travel opportunities. Their attendance even may be unnecessary.
  • Favors: They will fulfill requests from outside sources to benefit personally or professionally, even in spite of burdening their subordinates or, perhaps, ignoring questionable ethics. To self-centered leaders, everything and everyone else is secondary to personal gain.
  • Performance awards: Seldom will these individuals recognize outstanding employees unless doing so is beneficial politically or professionally. In regard to subordinates’ performance, self-centered leaders only care how it may impact them.
  • Involvement: At first glance, these leaders appear to have a laid-back approach. However, this remains true only until their image or reputation is in jeopardy. Then, although, perhaps, misinformed or unfamiliar with the situation at hand, they make a snap decision based, of course, on self-interest.
  • Patience: When these leaders perceive that a situation negatively may impact them, they have little or no patience for the issue or persons involved. Often, their concern for themselves will make them quick to anger when under perceived scrutiny or question.
  • Self-promotion: These individuals skillfully can claim credit for others’ successes and distance themselves from negative situations. Further, in the interest of career enhancement, self-centered leaders shamelessly will placate higher ranking or influential persons.
  • Negative motivation: Employees reach a point where merely seeing or interacting with a self-centered leader has a negative effect on them. Additionally, these leaders often may emphasize the difficulty of their job and the accompanying stress to others, perhaps, even conducting meetings for this sole purpose.
  • Intimidation: Self-centered leaders often will use their position to intimidate subordinates and manipulate them into responding to directives or requests. They even may threaten unfounded disciplinary actions. These leaders find this necessary because their employees will not respond to them out of respect or from a healthy relationship.

How do workers deal and coexist with such leaders? This is a difficult question to answer. One thing remains certain—the self-centered leader cannot and will not change. Their narcissistic personality and value system has taken shape for years. Perhaps, the best advice for those under the supervision of a self-centered leader is to remember that, ultimately, everyone should strive to work to the best of their ability for personal pride and a greater good, regardless of poor leadership.

Those outside of the work unit may find it difficult to assess and identify a self-centered leader. However, persons under the direct leadership or supervision of such a leader quickly will realize what type of person they work for. Successful employees can learn from the situation and have success despite the presence and interference of a self-centered leader in their work environment.

Special Agent Kevin J. Crawford, an instructor in the FBI’s Leadership Development Institute at the FBI Academy, prepared this Leadership Spotlight.