How to Handle an Unpredictable Boss

Do you need help dealing with a boss who keeps changing your priorities? The Public Speaker has smart tips for handling this tricky situation.

Lisa B. Marshall
4-minute read
Episode #284

John, a new listener of The Public Speaker podcast, recently sent me this question:

“How should I deal with a whimsical boss? He keeps changing his goals every third day and wants me to quickly start off with another project while I am in the midst of working on the prevous one. He says I should be 'multi-tasking' and 'doing more with less.'" .

If you work in the corporate world, you’ve probably experienced this. Just when you think you’ve got your workload under control, your manager gives you two new projects. They’re probably both top priority, too.

Is it your boss, your company, or the industry? Before you assume that your boss is just being whimsical, try to understand where the new priorities are coming from.

A friend of mine who works at a large software company as a program manager shared this story with me.

Her team had been working nights and weekends to release some big new features before the competition did. One morning her manager called the entire team into a meeting and completely changed the priorities. They were angry and it hurt the team’s morale. They all immediately blamed the boss. 

But, it turned out that the product had been sold to a competitor! The shift in priorities wasn’t because they had a bad boss, it was because of a bigger change in the strategic direction of the company.  

What to Do When Your Boss Shifts Priorities

When priorities suddenly shift, always start by assuming the best of your manager.  If your manager typically makes good decisions, then it's best to assume that you (or even your manager) may not have all of the information (or may not be able to share the information) that explains a sudden shift in priorities. This is particularly true if you have a good working relationship with your manager. It's important to trust that changes are likely in alignment with the strategic direction of the company and that you simply aren't privvy to the information that explains it. 

This isn't always the case, but it's a good starting point. If, however, as John explained, the priorities are constantly changing and it's impacting your productivity, then you need to address the issue with your manager. In fact, your manager may not even be aware of the impact of his whimsy.

So how do you approach this?...


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.