5 Warning Signs of Narcissistic Leadership

I came across a quiz the other day that tested if you could identify if a quote was from Kanye West or Jean Ralphio Saperstein from Parks and Recreation. I only got six correct. How well can you identify narcissistic individuals? And what does that have to do with warning signs of narcissistic leadership? How does narcissistic leadership fit into The Malphurs Group’s ministry as a church consulting firm? What about it’s connection to church vision consulting in general?

In pop culture, narcissism is funny and we derive entertainment from it. In the church, not so much. Check out these five warning signs of narcissistic leadership to ensure you are being the strongest leader you can be.

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Narcissistic Leaders Exude Self-Importance

Leaders that cannot see their organization functioning without them at the helm are at risk of becoming narcissistic.

Look at Moses. Multiple books of the Bible are centered on his leadership journey, but when Deuteronomy 34 rolls around, his death gets four verses before the story turns to Joshua. Matt Chandler once said, “The man goes in the ground and the message moves on.”

The leadership of your church is its greatest asset, but also its greatest liability. The degree to which a leader sees himself or herself as self-important determines that scale. Ask yourself, “When is the last time I took the posture of a learner and received leadership coaching for myself and my staff?”

Narcissistic Leaders Act Entitled

Narcissistic leaders feel they are the exception, not the rule.

They see human resource guidelines applying to everyone else, but don’t apply to them. This warning sign of narcissistic leadership can creep in all too quickly. When everyone else is hustling on a project, they’ve got an important meeting and can’t participate. Or perhaps the narcissistic leader’s family time is protected more than the rest of the staff.

Scripture teaches that leaders should be exceptions, but not for their own gain. Biblical leaders are exceptional servants, taking the harder road even when the easier path is open to them.

Narcissistic Leaders Use Generalizations

Narcissistic leaders exaggerate to achieve their goals.

They say “always” and “never” to enhance their perspective. They use just enough facts to root their generalizations in reality. They use the shield of positional authority to shut down opinions. Generalizations can do more emotional damage to team members than almost anything a leader can use. A leader’s words are powerful, and they can be poison.

Narcissistic Leaders Need Adoration

Narcissistic leaders need adoration. Everyone wants to be liked, and most people will change behavior to some degree if they believe it will make them better liked. When narcissistic leaders receive criticism, especially from staff or colleagues, they tend to react in two ways:

First, they may become defensive and reactionary. Perceived offenses are met with negativity and bullying. This won’t make the offender like them, but it might make them fear the leader–which is often feels like an acceptable substitute.

Conversely, the narcissistic leader may respond emotionally. The leader employs tears, pleas, and emotional manipulation so that the critic feels bad for speaking up. He or she will think twice about sharing the next time.

Be honest with yourself and with God. Where have you seen this sign of narcissistic leadership in your interactions with others? Identify it, ask God for forgiveness, and apologize to those you believe you may have hurt.

Narcissistic Leaders Lack Empathy

Most characteristically, narcissistic leaders lack empathy. Their chief concerns are their goals, mission, and reputation.

Narcissistic leaders are willing to sacrifice people on the altar of ego. Unfortunately, most of the time they don’t even realize that there is a trail of emotionally damaged people in their wake.

As a church leader, this is the most dangerous of the warning signs of narcissistic leadership. God has called us to love one another. When we filter our lives through the lens of ego, we become blind to the spiritual needs that demand our full attention.

Narcissism is easy to identify in others, but hard to see in ourselves. The success of our leadership, however, depends on our ability to know ourselves. So step back. Think objectively. Are you showing any of the five warning signs of narcissistic leadership?

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Not sure? Try a 360-degree evaluation with one of our coaches to get an outside perspective. Church consulting isn’t only about vision and strategy, but also honestly evaluating the pastor, staff team, and/or lay leadership in the church. Evaluate today. Put it in your leadership development plan. Your leadership may depend on it.

This post originally appeared at on Scott Ball’s website on July 24, 2015. 


Scott is pastor, blogger and speaker located in Bristol, TN. He received his bachelor’s from King University and master’s from Gordon-Conwell Seminary. He and his wife, Allison, have two small children. @scottrball | Website

Scott Ball is the Vice President and a Lead Guide with The Malphurs Group. He lives in East Tennessee with his wife and two children. (Email Scott).

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