My girlfriend had recently broken up with me and I wasn’t handling it well. I was struggling to the point where I couldn’t do my job properly. Sitting at my desk with stomach pains, finding it hard to breathe, I realized I had to tell my boss. His response shocked me beyond words.

I laid out the whole emotional mess and didn’t hold back, telling him I was depressed to the point where I couldn’t perform. He thought about this for a while. “The most important thing right now…” he replied, taking a long pause. “… Is that we deliver your current project within the deadline. How can we make sure that happens?”

“The most important thing right now… is that we deliver your current project within the deadline”
— A boss, not a leader

I was stunned and had no idea how to respond before a few seconds passed. I gave him a good enough solution, all while thinking I could not believe how that was his main priority. That was the end for me. There was no way I was staying after that.

If You Don't Put Your Employees First, You're Not a Leader

What’s a Company Without Its Employees?

I don’t mean a brand — a brand can do fine in any set of competent hands. But a small company can take a devastating blow when losing a key employee.

I needed someone who cared, someone who would fight for me. But my boss was all about pleasing the client first.

I realize it must be hard for a CEO to tell a client their project will be delayed. Or have to hire a freelancer to fill in and cover the extra cost. But I expect, no, demand, that my leader fights for me when I’m unable to fend for myself. Why else would I choose to work for him?

Maybe You’re Not Meant To Be a Leader

If you care more about your clients than the people working for you, maybe you should think about doing something else. You could be a manager, manage people and survive. A true leader doesn’t think like that. She’ll fight for her people because she knows she’s nothing without her tribe. She’ll stand up for them when a client is treating them poorly. She knows that the real value is not from paying clients, but from inspired, hard-working, responsible employees that will do anything to push the boundaries, do the emotional labor and bring their humanity to work.

Whenever I imagine a horrible place to work, I think of that moment when I opened myself up and almost cried in front of my boss, and he was concerned about deadlines. But from that experience, I now know if a workplace is somewhere I’ll be able to thrive or if it’s a place where people come to get a paycheck and retire. I thank him for that insight, but I’ll never go back to someone who thought they could lead but was too scared to focus on anything but the short-term goals.

Have you ever lived the same story? Would you stay with a boss like this? Please leave a comment below or read about How One Simple Process Mistake Risk Destroying Your Best Work.


I write about personal growth, psychology, leadership, relationships and soft skills at The Neural Grind.