Wouldn’t it be nice if management theory actually worked in practice? Wouldn’t it be nice if you could follow the tenets of The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan to get your strategic, operating, and organizational processes in place and let them run without interruption? Wouldn’t it be nice if your boss had perfect leadership skills and gave you clear direction and then never changed his or her mind?
Welcome to the real world. The real world is messy. Things change. And we all must adapt to those changes on an ongoing basis.
Brilliant Bosses are Mercurial
The most brilliant entrepreneurs, leaders and bosses change their minds. They pride themselves on zigging while others zag. They don’t care about the process. They are passionately focused on a vision. They are relentless in pursuing what’s important. They will change anything at any time, except their core values, to reach their end goal.
This is why people like Steve Jobs throw out less than perfect prototypes. This is why other brilliant entrepreneurs are sometimes hard to work with.
I just got back from two weeks in China, Malaysia, Singapore and India. I met a handful of entrepreneurs and the people working for them. The various conversations I had with people doing better or worse in managing mercurial bosses led me to consider the five ways to manage an unpredictable or volatile boss.
Five BRAVE Keys
The five keys to managing a mercurial boss are the same as the five keys to managing any boss and culture: Behaviors, Relationships, Attitudes, Values, Environment.
Behave with integrity. What you do must match what you say and what you fundamentally believe. Integrity does not mean blind consistency. It’s fine for you to change direction in response to changing circumstances. You just have to let those following you know why. When your boss changes his or her mind based on something he or she sees that others don’t see, step in to explain that to others.
In a business setting, the relationship between a boss and subordinate is of primary importance. If you’re working for a mercurial boss, you need to align the mode, manner, and frequency of your communication with what your boss prefers. And you need to disagree with them in the right way. Different people prefer being disagreed with in different ways, ranging from:
– Never disagree with me
– Challenge me one-on-one, but only in private
– Challenge me in team meetings, but never let anyone outside “the family” know what you’re thinking
– Challenge me in any meetings, but gently
– Gloves off, all the time, because public challenges communicate the culture we want
You cannot survive a mercurial boss without knowing how to do this – and adapting as your boss changes.
You have to believe in your boss. Mercurial changes viewed through an attitude of belief and respect look very different than they do through an attitude of doubt. Choose the right attitude and approach.
We’ve had a series of amazing legacy CEOs come to CEO Connection CEO Boot Camps to share their perspective on what’s worked and not worked in their careers. Virtually every one of them says that the fundamental job of the CEO is to own the vision and the values. Got to have the vision. Got to move things towards that vision whatever it takes – except for compromising your values. If you believe the end justifies the means, you will not be the same person when you get there.
Thus, if you have a mercurial boss, make sure your values are completely in line with his or hers. If you share the same values, the tactical changes are far easier to handle.
Context counts. The physical environment makes a difference. The way you organize and decorate your offices makes a difference. The way you dress makes a difference.
One middle manager’s office is perfectly designed to make the people working for him respect him while, at the same time, never making his boss feel that the middle manager is trying to compete with him. This manager’s office, like the way he dresses, behaves, and relates to others, have found that happy middle way.
This is a good example of step 10 of The New Leader’s Playbook: Evolve People, Plans, and Practices to Capitalize on Changing Circumstances
By the end of your first 100-Days, you should have made significant steps toward aligning your people, plans, and practices around a shared purpose. Remember, this is not a one-time event but, instead, something that will require constant, ongoing management and Darwinian improvement.
I thought about saying this was a good example of positioning yourself for success – which, of course, it is if you’re going into a new role. But it’s not a one-time thing with brilliant, mercurial bosses. As they evolve, you must evolve with them.
The New Leader’s Playbook includes the 10 steps that executive onboarding group PrimeGenesis uses to help new leaders and their teams get done in 100-days what would normally take six to twelve months. George Bradt is PrimeGenesis’ managing director, and co-author of The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan (Wiley, third edition just released). Follow him at @georgebradt or on YouTube.