Coping With an Erratic Boss

Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource Beverly Flaxingtonissues.  To submit yours, email us here.

Advisor Perspectives welcomes guest contributions. The views presented here do not necessarily represent those of Advisor Perspectives.
Dear Bev,

We are all tired of the erratic behavior of the lead advisor in our firm. I’ll call him Doug. He doesn’t actually have an ownership piece, but he is “in charge” of the rest of us. One day he is perfectly fine, then the next he is yelling in the hallways over some perceived infraction. One of my colleagues confronted him a week ago and now that person is persona non grata. Doug actually pretended he didn’t hear him in our morning meeting. I never know what is coming next. I am writing on behalf of several colleagues to ask about coping strategies that would better enable us to work with Doug.

Harry M.
Dear Harry,

The behavior you describe leads me to wonder whether you need to find new ways to deal with difficult people or whether Doug has some sort of mental health issue. Some people don’t deal well with stress – if he is experiencing too much pressure, or things are not going well on the home front, for example, he could be acting out at work.

So, that’s my caveat and disclaimer. There could be something happening with Doug that’s more significant than what my tips can offer you.

However, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he just hasn’t learned well how to lead and work with people from a position of power. It’s worth trying a couple of things to see if he will come around. Please keep my disclaimer in mind though, in the event these things don’t work.

  1. If everyone is experiencing this behavior, you could stage an intervention. In a meeting with Doug (but not in front of Doug’s boss or anyone superior to him), one of you can say that everyone is concerned. Tell him you all notice him to be under stress and ask him what you can all do to help support his efforts. He may rail at you, ignore it or yell, but there can be safety in numbers if you all get together at once.
  2. If you don’t think confronting him en masse will work, doing this one-on-one could be more effective if anyone on the team has a better relationship with Doug than others.
  3. If you trust your HR representative or department, you could seek a sounding board. Explain the issue and that you want to help Doug but aren’t sure what else to do.
  4. While I always advocate going over someone’s head as a last resort, you might want to consult with the person in charge expressing concern about Doug and his actions if this behavior is so out of control. Maybe suggest that someone in a position of power could recommend an employee assistance program or counseling for him.

In my experience, if Doug doesn’t have more significant issues, he may respond well if not confronted but offered help or given feedback from someone more senior. If there is something more serious going on, I’m afraid most of your efforts will end in futility and you may have to accept the behavior and learn to manage your own responses or start to polish your resume.