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 unwilling to be self-aware and 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 a 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. Although the author offered three suggestions for employees in this situation, I wrestle with the fact that we are again 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 leader.
The article’s first recommendation of employees helping their leaders out is a good one. The examples of how to offer feedback are helpful. They subtly encourage managers to become more aware of others by recognizing their team’s behavior and emotions to better the workplace.
The following suggestions of learning to cope with a manager’s dark side and coexist in 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. Being in a leadership position doesn’t make one void of accountability.
In many workplaces, employees absorb the blows that come from working under a manager who lacks self-awareness and has low emotional intelligence. And depending on the employee’s family of origin, they may stay at an organization longer than they should because they are so familiar with 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 with high EQ, not just high productivity numbers. This will decrease turnover and increase productivity and morale.
As a psychotherapist, it disturbs me that even with all 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 efficiently trained, 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 can 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 proper training and hiring of their managers. Otherwise, be prepared for a sick workforce and the loss of high-quality employees.