Stop Making Employees Responsible for Emotionally Incompetent Bosses

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Self-awareness is a characteristic that those in positions of leadership should have. It is the foundation upon which Emotional Intelligence (EI) is built. You cannot elevate your emotional quotient (EQ) if you are not willing to be self-aware and to practice this awareness daily. How do you see yourself, and just as importantly, how do others see you? Having this awareness works in tandem with a great EI attribute: empathy. However, lacking self-awareness can make it challenging to see where another person is coming from. And if a leader has deficiency in this area, it can create a very frustrating work environment.

I recently read the Harvard Business Review article How to Work For a Boss Who Lacks Self-Awareness, and although the author offered three suggestions for employees who are in this situation, I wrestle with the fact that once again we are putting the onus on employees rather than addressing the incompetence of poor managers. The employer should seek to train and equip managers to become competent leaders rather than requiring the employee to lead the lead.

The article’s first recommendation of employees helping their leaders out is a good one. The examples of how to offer feedback are helpful and subtly encourage managers to become more aware of others by recognizing the behavior and emotions of their team with the goal of bettering the workplace.

The following suggestions of learning to cope with a manager’s dark side and to coexist in their reality distortion are highly problematic! Why are we encouraging employees to stay in a toxic environment that can become emotionally abusive and mentally draining? Why are we asking employees to be more mature than their leaders? I liken this to unhealthy parental relationships where the parent expects their child to accept their toxic behavior simply because they are the parent. This is a complete displacement of responsibility. Just because one is in a position of leadership doesn’t make them void of accountability.

In many workplaces, employees are absorbing the blows that come from working under a manager who lacks self-awareness and has low emotional intelligence. And depending on the employee’s own family of origin, they may stay at an organization longer than they should because they are so familiar to this kind of relationship and do not recognize that they have become accustomed to the abuse. No one needs to experience trauma at work. It would behoove employers to do their due diligence to promote individuals that have high EQ more than have high numbers. This will decrease turnover and increase productivity and morale.

As a psychotherapist, it disturbs me that even with all of the data around stress related illnesses, increased absenteeism, and rising healthcare costs, organizations still fail to address the real issue; we have a people problem. Capitalism has trumped human capital, and we are not humanistic in how we approach business. Managers aren’t trained properly, yet employees are made liable? No. If an employee is working for a boss that lacks self-awareness, they are not required to alleviate the problem or feel obligated to deal with it.

I believe we have the ability to better our environment, and should whenever possible. However, I do not believe it should be done at the expense of our mental health and well-being. I challenge employers to invest in the proper training and hiring of their managers. Otherwise, be prepared for a sick workforce and the loss of high-quality employees.

Farah is a psychotherapist and workplace wellness champion who guides individuals and organizations in decreasing symptoms of stress and burnout, elevating their emotional intelligence quotient while improving morale by implementing strategies to create healthier and equitable work culture. To hire Farah as a consultant or to speak at your next event, email:

Farah is a psychotherapist and workplace wellness expert who guides individuals and organizations in improving their mental health and elevating their EQ.

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