Fast Company

How to Deal With a Volatile Boss

Mike Hoban's recent missive on "What if Your Boss was as Volatile as the Stock Market" caught my attention. He gives a very detailed account of how a boss acting like the very volatile stock market might come across. The reality is that many of us have or have had "volatile" bosses. I didn't quite know what to do about them until I became a boss myself and realized first-hand how difficult it is to be a good boss.

He didn't exactly spell it out so I will. The two--a boss and the stock market--might very well act similarly because they share something in common. They're both human. The stock market, as countless experts have opined, is very much a reflection of human emotion and therefore human behavior. So is your boss. So are you.

Investors believe that in a rational market the fundamentals of a company (revenue, earnings) should determine its market price, much like the fundamentals of a boss (is the company making money under her direction) should determine her perception. Unfortunately, this relationship is not so cut and dry.

When I first became a boss it took me a while to understand that everyone was watching me--literally. What I wore, when I laughed, when I didn't. What I said and what I did were often beside the point. All eyes were trained on my decidedly un-poker-like face. Couple a raised eyebrow with an employee's own stories about raised eyebrows (a mom who lashed out when she lifted hers or a dad who blew his top when he knitted his) and you have the perfect recipe for misunderstanding, hence the perception of unpredictability.

To me, however, I was very predictable. I would be disappointed when someone failed to follow through, sad when we lost an account and angry when someone was being lazy. There's nothing wrong with these emotions, the only potential pitfall is in how they are expressed. When I was calm and not stressed, I expressed them correctly--evenly. When I wasn't, they came out sideways. It seems humans like the stock market, are not wholly rational. The effect, though, is not completely attributable to the boss. While it's simpler to demonize the boss, "The Man," the reality is that part of the equation is in the employee's perception of the boss.

As with our parents, we want predictability from our bosses. Like our parents, bosses, often let us down. Herein lies the remedy. When you do the necessary developmental work of individuating from your parents--you know, creating an identity outside of them, you learn to detach. Suddenly, your mom's annoying cloying or your dad's pompous behavior, are just a little less threatening. At first, your parents' behavior is highly threatening to you because we see ourselves as a reflection of them--like organizations see themselves as a reflection of the leader. A healthy family, like a healthy organization is made up of differentiated individuals who come together in respect and understanding. But as anyone with a family knows, this takes work and first and foremost on yourself.

If you step back and realize that your boss's mood has nothing to do with you, you just might see what you two have in common. You may even see you're going through all the same things; the only difference being you're not center stage. You'll relax and began to see the patterns, and through them, the end game: everyone just wants to win. That's pretty predictable.

For more advice on how to be a boss, see www.aliciamorga.com.

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