A year ago I walked out of a top C-Suite position with a global company because its culture was so toxic that it was impacting my mental health. Domineering narcissists in the boardroom had made debate impossible and I was constantly bullied into silence.
My anxiety hit the roof and I was totally burnt out. I knew that my heart had left the building several months before, and now the time had come for my body to follow it out the door.
I grew up scapegoated in a family dominated by a toxic, narcissistic father. So it could well be that I am more sensitive to narcissistic vibes and abusive behaviours than the average person.
At first I tried not to get triggered by the strong narcissistic personalities that dominated the board. However five years down the line it was clear that I was fighting a losing battle. I am no doormat, and I have even been known to get down and dirty if necessary. But I draw the line when it comes to the manipulation and screwed up mind games that narcissists love. I simply refuse to play that game, so I walked away.
Narcissists – the Bullies in the Boardroom
Narcissists are great at convincing everyone that they are God’s gift to the company. They ruthlessly steal the credit for work done by other people in order to fuel the mythology of their greatness.
If anyone complains about it or tries to call them out, they attack and bully them into submission. They will do whatever it takes to shut them down – denigrating them, abusing them by proxy and even lying to put them in a bad light.
They are also master manipulators, stopping at nothing in order to obtain what they want. Nothing else matters, even if it is not in the best interest of the company they lead. The people around them are simply tools that they use for their own ends. When they are no longer of any use they simply discard them and move on to the next victim.
What was truly shocking, however, was the realization that the CEO and all the other members of the C-Suite had no intention of acknowledging the problem, let alone addressing it. When the narcissist attacked, they looked the other way.
I was not able to do the same. I cannot abide bullies and I will not sit by and watch someone get eviscerated without saying anything. Time and time again I tried to push back, but in the end it was clear that I was the one who was seen as a trouble maker, and not the narcissist himself.
Narcissists need Enablers to Hijack the Boardroom
On one particular occasion the narcissist humiliated a top manager in the company. He called her a small yapping poodle and she was so embarrassed that she started crying. I waited for someone to say something, but nobody did.
So I stepped in myself and said that the language used was unacceptable. To my shock, the CEO turned to me and told me to be silent, because my intervention was making things worse. I had drawn attention to the massive pink elephant in a tutu in the room, and that was a major inconvenience for those who wanted to ignore its existence.
In the end, that is what did it for me. I totally lost respect for the CEO and the other members of the board when I realized that they kept turning a blind eye, in a quid pro quo with the narcissist.
Each and every one of them in that boardroom was a spineless coward who was willing to sacrifice their employees’ dignity and mental health. Their only interest was to take home a big, fat pay cheque. Who cares if other people’s lives were made miserable?
Toxic Cultures Destroy Companies
A toxic work culture does not only damage employees. It also harms the company itself. Obviously top management should fight toxicity out of sheer decency, but if they are not decent then they should do so out of self-interest.
Narcissists are like vampires. They suck positivity and energy and motivation out of everyone who has the misfortune to work with them. They leave in their wake a trail of shattered lives and careers. And this is where the damage to the company happens.
The top talent in the firm is not going to put up with the constant barrage of bullying and narcissistic abuse. As soon as they realise that this behaviour is not a one-off, but is actually endemic, they run out the door, straight into the welcoming arms of the competition.
One year down the line I have no regrets whatsoever. I am glad that I stuck it out for five years because I believe that I did make a difference and that the culture improved during my tenure. However at the end of the day my mental health is a top priority, so leaving was the only viable way forward for me.
If you have ever been bullied or seen others being bullied at work, speak up. Saying nothing will slowly corrode your self-respect and your soul. It’s not worth it.
For Further Reading
The following are some other posts about narcissists in the workplace
How to Deal with a Narcissist Coworker – Overcoming Difficult Mindsets
How Narcissistic Leaders Create Toxic Workplaces
Narcissists in the Boardroom create Toxic Corporate Cultures
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2 thoughts on “Narcissists in the Boardroom Create Toxic Corporate Cultures”
Good for you having the strength of character to stand up for what is right. I have been the target of a narc supervisor in the workplace myself and the most hurtful thing about it was that not one of my coworkers ever stood up for me. They acknowledged the bullying in one on one conversations with me. But kept silent when it mattered.
Hi Rhonda, is the bullying ongoing? Have you tried to talk to HR about it? You could also try to get transferred to another department – I know that if you do so it’s unfair because you were forced to do so, but at this point it’s your mental health and peace of mind that’s the priority.
It never ceases to amaze me how cowardly most people are. If people did not look away these bullies would have to stop!