How To Deal With An Ever-changing Boss

It has been discussed many times before that people leave managers, not companies. The old-timey idea that the worst type of boss is the dictator type is long gone, and in its place is a pervasive feeling that what’s worse than a boss who tells you what to do and when to do it is one that never lets you know exactly what’s required at a given time. Enter: The Ever-Changing Boss.


Pop culture brought this archetype to life in “The Devil Wears Prada” which was an extreme caricature of this type of supervisor: one who never sets out clear objectives or deadlines, and one who changes their mind on a dime. When misinterpretations occur, they are the fault of the worker, and not the boss. This is indeed a horrifying predicament as a worker to be in.


What happens if you find yourself at a new company, or through company shuffles, you suddenly find yourself in this type of a situation?


Rather than just cutting bait, you can salvage the situation (even if it’s just to bide your time before you start looking,) and maybe even teach your boss something in the process.


I asked Sarah Paul, Director of Human Resources at Govan Brown Construction Managers what an employee should look to do when they find themselves stuck in this type of a situation. She shared her tips with us:


Clarify Your Boss’ Priorities: Priorities may change on the fly, so make sure you ask and reaffirm the priority of the moment. Keep a list of ongoing projects on the go and be prepared to shift gears at any time.


“A trick I use to manage my tasks is to put them all in my Outlook calendar. This allows me to easily move projects/tasks to a different time or day (or month!).” Says Paul.   “Be sure to keep a constant to-do list so that nothing gets forgotten as you move from one priority to the next.”


Be flexible. Understand that things change and that you need to be able to respond. If you need rigid structure with strict timelines in order enjoy your job, perhaps this is the wrong work environment or the wrong leader for you.


“Flexibility is one of the top competencies companies are looking for in their talent. If flexibility is not your strong suit, then consider developing your skills in this area.” Says Paul.


Clarify Your Boss’ Priorities Anticipate Your Boss’ Needs. Successful people take the initiative to look ahead to future needs and be ready to react. Past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour. If your boss has left things until the last minute in the past, they are bound to do it again. Get anything you can in order so you’re not stuck.   “If you are ready when things hit the fan, you will be much less stressed and brand yourself the go-to person in “to the wire” situations. Any way you can make yourself indispensable is a good thing.” Added Paul.


Learning how to adapt is a crossover skill that can greatly benefit you in the future, especially if you have eyes on becoming an Executive. Learning to manage these situations yourself and by managing up can make it easier to deal with a challenging boss.



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