Hair on Fire at Work? Ask Madeleine

do not call me male phone stressDear Madeleine,

I run a department in a fast growing biotech company. Things are moving so fast that they keep promoting me and I have to say I am pretty sure I have no idea what I am doing at this point.

I have excellent people reporting to me—they are all super smart, insanely dedicated, and well intentioned. When I was first promoted, I really enjoyed managing professionals who were like me. But with the latest change I now supervise managers of other managers who are quite a bit older than me and more experienced, and I also still have my own deliverables.

I am behind on paperwork required by HR, performance reviews, and my goals for next quarter. I am so overwhelmed I don’t even know where to begin. I am tempted to go to my boss, tell him I can’t hack it, and ask to be demoted again.

Want to Downgrade

Dear Want to Downgrade,

Whoa there, let’s just take a deep breath and think this one through, okay? You, like so many, have been thrust into management, and now senior management, apparently with zero direction or support. It sounds as if you feel like your hair is on fire—and why wouldn’t you? Let’s try to put that fire out first so you can think straight and make yourself a plan. The good news about being clueless is that you aren’t doing a lot of stupid stuff you shouldn’t be doing.

You definitely need to go to your boss—but to get some help, not to throw in the towel. I suspect your boss is underwater as much as you are, but you can ask him for some direction and prioritization. You will figure out how to do everything you need to do, just not all at the same time. Find out what is most important to your boss and, in the process, notice what matters to him least—for example, he may not care about the HR stuff. This will help you to decide what to tackle first, and what you can let slide for a minute or two. Choose which areas will help you get your feet back under you, and then figure out the rest. Block out some time each day to plan and prioritize. New research shows that people who spend their commute time clarifying goals and planning their workday have much lower levels of stress than those who don’t.

Next, get one-on-one meetings with each of your new direct reports on the calendar. The agenda? Simply ask them what they think you should know. You will be surprised at what you can learn.

Finally, cut yourself some slack. Someone obviously thought that in a sink-or-swim situation you were going to swim. So take a moment to float while you get you get your bearings, and then pick a direction and start swimming. Worst case would be that you fail and get demoted—but that probably won’t happen. Or you might actually figure out the job, decide you don’t want it, and move on to something else. At least that way you would be rising to the challenge and not throwing your hands up and quitting. I suspect you would regret that most of all.

Oh, and the next time you think you are going to run screaming from the building, take a short walk and take three deep breaths. When we are super stressed out, we tend to hold our breath—but the answer to the question always comes with the intake of breath.

Good luck!

Love Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Blanchard

Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

3 thoughts on “Hair on Fire at Work? Ask Madeleine

  1. Great advice. I have been going through this for the past 3 months and it is finally letting up. I found that good communication and setting realistic expectations with your boss is key. There is a reason you were given the opportunity. It is also in their best interest for you to be successful.


    • Thanks Brent! You are right. All the adrenaline can cloud judgement, so glad it has cleared a little for you!Good luck.

  2. Pingback: Can’t Take a Vacation? Ask Madeleine | Blanchard LeaderChat

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