Op-ed Spotlight: In Praise of Insensitive Bosses

Lucy Kellaway kills a sacred cow

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As the management columnist at the Financial Times, Lucy Kellaway knows bosses. She also knows the conventional wisdom about bosses--that they should be emotive, perceptive, and sensitive to their worker-bees. But all that, she says, is wrong. In her latest column, she argues that emotional "dyslexia" is key to success. Inspired by a quote from venture capitalist Jon Moulton who listed "insensitivity" as one of his three best qualities, she raves:

I read his answer and knew he had just uttered the single most sensible word that I'd seen on the flabby subject of leadership in at least a decade.

On Insensitivity and Sleep

CEOs must sleep. Insensitivity is vital for sleep. Therefore, CEOs should be insensitive.

On Insensitivity and Management

Being the boss means you need to be able to take decisions that will hurt individual people. If you are sensitive you will dither and prevaricate, or you will do the necessary but then toss and turn fretting about the consequences ... In a boss what is needed is not to be out-and-out emotionally stupid, but mildly emotionally dyslexic.

On the Benefits of an Insensitive Boss

An insensitive boss can be told what his failures are without going into a blind funk. They don't take things personally. And because they are insensitive, they help me behave better. If I know I'm not going to get rewarded for being needy, I have no choice but to tone it down a bit.

On Outsourcing Sensitivity

The solution is to outsource sensitivity: every senior management team needs one person who serves as the corporate box of tissues, and who tells the boss when he needs to respond to an emotion that he hasn't picked up on.

On Women

If one wants proof that emotional intelligence is a disadvantage at work one only needs to look at women in corporate life. They are supposed to be great at reading emotion, and yet seem unable to make it to the top in any great number.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.