When a narcissist joins your team….

I still remember that team meeting – the rest of us were keen, excited about the possibilities now that we had coalesced as a team and felt ready to move forward on our plans to meet our membership needs. We were all excited – but one of us was, it later became evident, excited for a different reason.
In retrospect, I realize he was a narcissist, proud of his new title. And he saw us as a backdrop for his role – not as partners in a collaborative team effort. In some senses, I suppose, he was more aware than we were. He knew that holding a title, as he did (even if appointed, not elected), gave him power. It was something he had been pursuing for a while.

Over a period of years, our team had developed as a collaborative effort. We shared the responsibilities once held by one person, who held the title of regional director within the organization – and we made our decisions collaboratively, as equals. It worked well, for some time, and we built the organization in our area until it was seen as the strongest region within the global organization.
The person who held the “title” was committed to working collaboratively, and it worked well, so we never saw the need to incorporate the team concept into the organization’s bylaws.

Then came this man, and everything changed – rapidly. As we talked about our plans, he talked about ‘the board’ and what it wanted. Odd how it seemed that the board had reservations about everything we wanted to do – and he was the one who knew what the board ‘wanted’.
So all our plans, highlighted on flip chart paper, went nowhere (unless, as I realize in retrospect, they suited his purposes) – although he talked about them a lot – to others. It was just that it never seemed the right time for many of these plans to move ahead.

And then there was the ‘palace coup’. We had one vacant team spot – he proposed to fill it by calling for interested members. We had done this several times before, to fill a spot. But this time, he proposed to add all the new volunteers to the team and to let the roles become clear over time.
In the corporate world, one would have called this a ‘hostile takeover’. But in our world, this was called “expanding the team”.  What it meant, effectively, was that we were outvoted – as he had recruited, and conversed, with all the “new team” himself. Unable to change us, he had recruited his own team.
The organization itself was made up of people who work in such situations on a regular basis. But no one seemed curious about why our long-established team was dissolving. They apparently just saw numbers – he had expanded the team. And no one called any of us to ask why, after so many years, we were all leaving the team – and the organization.

I still remember, at a locally-organized event we were all attending, watching as the ‘director’ spoke about the team without acknowledging the rest of the team members in the room – including those who had done the bulk of the work to organize the event.
I guess in his mind, it was clear. He was the director – he was in charge. For him, we were just a part of the backdrop.
From the audience, it must have sounded okay. I mean, he did give credit to all those who had laid the foundation that he was now standing on. He has continued to do this – give credit to those who built the foundation, even as he and his actions effectively dismantled it.

If I sound bitter, it is because for a long time, I was. I just didn’t really understand why – until I heard a recent program on CBC Radio about narcissists. Then I began to see him clearly, for the first time.
I don’t belong to the organization any more. I felt that for an organization made up of people who work with (among others) dysfunctional teams and organizations, there should have been more curiosity about why such a long-established team had dissolved.
But now I realize that the organization, too, was one of his victims. He was charming to board members, cultivating each member even as he acquired knowledge – which he then could use to build his own reputation and business.
He saw power opportunities, and he took them. And having learned the organization’s language, and thinking, he cloaked it all in the right words. It just took them a lot longer to see him clearly than it had taken us.

Very sad. And I guess I am still somewhat bitter – but mostly at the organization, for not walking its talk.
He, as I now realize, was being absolutely true to himself.
He was, after all, the ‘director’.