Afraid Your Boss is Slipping Mentally? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I am worried about my boss. He has always been super bright, ahead of everyone else, with a mind like a steel trap. He has been an amazing boss and a real mentor for me; I have a lot of respect and affection for him.

Lately he has been forgetting critical things, like big decisions we’ve made and meetings that have been scheduled forever. Just yesterday he showed up at a client meeting with potential customers whom he’d met several times and it was clear that he did not remember them. I am constantly covering for him. I try to make sure he is prepared for things, but then he forgets our conversation. I am running myself ragged trying to do my job and his. Others on the team are noticing it, and people are starting to talk. He really seems too young for this to be happening and I don’t know what to do. I would never want to hurt him, and it would break my heart if he thought I was talking about him to HR or anyone else. What do you think?

At a Loss

Dear At a Loss,

Well, heartbreak is ahead for you in this situation any way you look at it. I couldn’t be more sorry. Truly. You absolutely must, must, must go to your boss’s boss or to HR. If you won’t go right now, at the very least start documenting every incident so that you have a clear record of what is going on.

The best case scenario would be that your boss sees a doctor and finds out he has a correctable condition that is impairing his cognitive function. This is actually possible, and I hope that is what is going on. The worst case scenario would be that he has some kind of early onset dementia that will not improve with medical attention. Either way, you owe it to your boss and to your organization to make sure he gets help. If you have any relationship at all with his significant other or spouse, you might want to have a heart to heart talk with that person as well.

It is critical that someone have your boss’s back and makes sure he is properly taken care of. I have heard horror stories about senior leaders in organizations who learn a colleague is impaired and take advantage of the situation by having that person sign away their rights to pensions, insurance, etc. Perhaps you think this would never happen at your organization—and that would be a good thing—but keep your eyes open.

Love, Madeleine

About the author


Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

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