It’s an especially powerless feeling to watch the leader of your organization behave erratically. Yet you know you need to do something since your leader’s disagreeableness, snap decisions, and emotional venting are having a negative effect on your organization’s reputation and your own ability to do your job.
Since you don’t have a direct relationship with your leader, you’re at a loss about what to do. The ways to deal with an unpredictable manager don’t apply and there’s no way to manage up because you’re too far removed from the leader’s sphere of influence.
What can you do when the top dog at your organization is the one with the reckless mood swings?
Sometimes unpredictable leaders change their minds. They’re unpredictable that way. Perhaps they’ve had a new idea, their enthusiasm has wilted, they’ve been distracted, or they’ve forgotten what caught their fancy as time passed.
Resist the urge to react immediately to the latest whims of your unpredictable leader. Give their latest idea time to settle, just in case they’re as indecisive as they are unpredictable.
Mind your mission
Your organization’s mission is enduring, and will most likely survive an unpredictable leader. Let your mission—and the vision and core values that support it—give you clarity and confidence when your leader fails.
Proudly put your mission on display in your workspace. Print it on a wallet-sized card so you always carry it with you. Set boundaries based on what your mission says you should do in your job and what you should say “no” to.
Form a united front
Unpredictability means your leader probably isn’t doing much leading. If that’s the case, it’s up to you and your colleagues to unite and fill the leadership void together.
Within your team or with your closest colleagues, decide how you’ll maintain productivity, make decisions, and accomplish your shared goals. When problems arise, be ready to back each other up and find solutions in collaboration.
Shore up trust
When your leader is unpredictable, the people in the community you serve need you and your colleagues to be more dependable than ever. Earn their trust by doing as much as you can to make sure your organization follows through on its commitments.
Be responsive, consistent, and honest, and listen carefully to the community’s concerns. Even if you aren’t able to act immediately or fix the problem, you can listen and assure them that you’re learning as much as you can now to make better decisions in the future.
Plan for the unpredictable
You and your colleagues need to find ways to stay productive amidst all the unpredictability. Devise ways to streamline your processes and decision making so that you can be nimble.
Break up longer-term projects into a series of more small steps with shorter timelines and clear milestones, so that it’s more of a liability for the leader to undo progress that’s already been made. Early in your planning process, identify the potential barriers and risks you face each step of the way, and decide now how you can best respond in the future.
Pick your battles
Your leader’s unpredictable behavior might aggravate and even embarrass you. But, if you spend every day distracted by what they’re doing, you’ll find yourself mired more deeply in the mess they’ve made. Unless their latest wandering whim directly affects your ability to do your job, you should seriously reconsider if it’s worth your time and energy.
If you decide it’s a battle worth fighting, do more than point out the problem. Step up into a leadership role by being the person who takes charge and proposes a range of possible solutions.
How have you coped with an unpredictable leader? Share your experiences in the comments.
Lauren Girardin is a marketing and communications consultant, writer, and speaker based in San Francisco. She helps organizations engage their communities and tell their stories. Her website is laurengirardin.com and you can connect with her on Twitter at @girardinl.