Awhile ago I spoke with a business leader who told me they had a boss who is emotionally unintelligent. Taking Daniel Goleman’s definition of emotional intelligence, this means that the boss is not self-aware, does not manage their emotions well, is socially unaware, and does not manage relationships effectively. Not the best boss imaginable!
So, what do you do with a boss like this? Especially if this boss is very senior in your organization – a position they probably attained through their genius and business prowess, not people management skills.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Try to convert them
If you are a very emotionally intelligent leader yourself, you may fancy your chances at converting this emotionally unintelligent leader. Some might say good luck! Reach out to them with a human touch, offer them feedback, and try to appeal to the small amount of empathy that lies within. Who knows, you may unlock someone who has become the person they are because no-one has tried to help them discover a better version of themselves. Sitting down and talking about the style of leadership they exhibit may be risky, but you may find them receptive to feedback offered with humility and best intentions. I have always felt that there is good in everyone – sometimes it is just buried quite deep. The leader might of course be completely impervious to your approaches and backing off may eventually be a wise course of action.
- Leave them be
Some leaders are tough nuts to crack when it comes to personal behavior change. You might just be best off going with the flow. Accept that they are unlikely to ask you how your weekend went, host a celebration event, or care about building a relationship with you. They might be 100% business and 0% personable. Sometimes it is not worth getting stressed or upset about a leader like this. Try and work with it. Acknowledge the way they are and go with the flow. This might be an emotionally bankrupt approach but make your emotional deposits elsewhere in relationships that offer a return on investment. When interfacing with your boss, tune yourself into the way they are. This way you will meet their expectations.
- Stay authentic
Carry on being the person you are. This can a tough road, especially as you are unlikely to get any response to your emotional investment. But some people can pull this off. Stay true to the emotionally intelligent person you are. Ask your boss how their weekend went. Invite them to a social gathering. Share things that are going on in your life. You may hit a brick wall and be ignored, but at least you are filling the airwaves with the positivity that you appreciate. If you are in the company of others as well as your boss, they will latch onto your attitude and appreciate you. Your boss might bark at you to focus on the business at hand, so be careful that you do not show any disrespect. At least you can feel fulfilled in continuing to be the person you are and not compromising your behavior just because it is not reciprocated.
- Keep your network alive
No person is an island. Even a CEO has a Board to be accountable to. When faced with an emotionally unintelligent boss, it is important that you keep networking with their peers, other direct reports, and skip level (if appropriate). Take big precautions not to gossip or side with others who bad mouth your boss. The last thing you need is to have your relationship poisoned, no matter how legitimate that might be. You can say that the relationship with your boss is challenging and laugh about some of the incidents that you have experienced but try to stay professional and positive as much as possible. Building relationships with others who share your boss’ circle of influence will ensure that you are inclusive and politically savvy. You might also discover ways of improving your relationship with your boss – others may have learned a secret or two.
- Talk to a coach
Sometimes you just need someone to vent to. Let your frustrations and need for validation spill out onto someone else. If your need for emotional connection and relational understanding are not met by your boss, you do need to find a safe place where you can get these. Your partner or family may not be the best place to find counsel. Maybe an HR Business Partner or a coach can help you best. Talk it out. You may find gems of wisdom, but you may not find a resolution – be prepared for that.
Do not be a victim. This person will not be your boss forever. Be true to yourself. Develop your own emotional intelligence and be the best colleague and leader you can be to others.