Lessons in Leadership: Integrating Courage, Vision, and Innovation for the Future of Sustainable Fisheries
Stopping Narcissists from Spreading Strife in Your Team
Nancy J. Leonard
Tension levels reached a peak in midsummer among the research team. There had been ups and downs before, but nothing to this extreme. Complaints against each other had increased; murmurings, all negative, were on the rise. It was surprising to see a team change so quickly, and you could find no source as to why—nothing tangible, nothing you could measure or quantify. But, undeniably, something had happened to the team dynamic, something putting everyone on edge. The team leader was aware of the growing tension. But at the time, the team leader didn’t realize how much of an impact it was having on the team’s productivity, nor the extent of the growing hostility.
Being a team leader is a privilege and a responsibility not to be taken lightly. As a leader, you are responsible for creating and maintaining a safe and respectful work environment within which your team can grow and excel. The team leader in the above situation was caught completely off guard. No action was taken at the first sign of tension, leaving this tension unresolved, which only further eroded team cohesiveness and made the team members even more vulnerable to toxic influences. Leaders are fallible, just like everyone else. However, a successful leader will acknowledge and take ownership of uncovering the root causes of a problem and resolve these so that their team can get back on track, working towards shared goals.
In the situation described above, the main trigger to the escalating conflict and increased tensions among the research team was eventually traced back to one individual, referred to as Averie. This person had the required expertise and a charming, exuberant, and confident personality, an aspect that made Averie a clear standout among the other candidates during the hiring process. While setting up the research project in early spring, Averie displayed a strong commitment to the team and their efforts. However, Averie was also approaching team members individually and making negative comments about others’ work performance, competence, and contributions. Averie began controlling information between colleagues and the team leader, using this to spread misinformation such as claiming ownership of successes that rightfully belonged to others. Averie excelled at deflecting any negative outcome by finding faults in others or self-identifying as the martyr of a doomed project. This person further started a campaign of disinformation to escalate strife within the team, projecting themselves as unfairly treated, especially by those who threatened Averie’s self-perception of being superior to other team members. Within only a few months, the cohesiveness of the research team had eroded dramatically. Morale was at a critical threshold.