Boss Is Acting Weird and Not Sure What to Do? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

About three months ago, my boss told me that I was in line for a promotion. It is now the middle of December and I haven’t heard a word. I asked about it at my last one-on-one and he looked at me funny and then changed the subject. I don’t think he remembers the conversation.

My boss is usually great and nice, but also sometimes moody and weird—and he often doesn’t remember conversations. I once submitted a report he had asked me to create – I spent four nights and a weekend putting it together. Again he gave me that blank look and it was obvious he had no idea what it was and no memory of having asked me to do it.

In the meantime, I really want that promotion. What do I do now?

Boss in a Fog

Dear Boss in a Fog,

Wow, this is tricky. We all have memory lapses and stress can make the problem worse, but this seems beyond the norm.

It doesn’t appear that the behavior comes from bad intentions, so you are going to have to prioritize which is more important to you right now: that your boss gets the help he needs to be clearer, or that you get the clarity you need to be as effective as possible in your job.

It all depends on the relationship you have with your boss. Clearly he has a problem, and some would tell you to go to HR to report it. The key, if you want to go with that course of action, is to keep track of incidents with dates and details.

I would only recommend this course of action if you don’t feel like you can have an honest conversation with your boss. I can tell you that if my employees noticed that I was being odd and inconsistent, I would very much want them to mention it to me. This option would require some practice and courage. I am a big fan of Susan Scott’s method from her book Fierce Conversations.

  1. Name the Issue. He has said specific things which he then does not seem to recall.
  2. Select a specific example that illustrates the behavior. The ones you shared here should do it.
  3. Describe your emotion about this issue. You feel you do a lot of work that doesn’t make any difference to anyone. You got all excited about a possible promotion and now have no idea what is going on.
  4. Clarify what is at stake. This is tricky. You can stick with how it is affecting you personally, or you can go out on a limb and share that you are worried about your boss’s health. The angle that you are worried about him can easily backfire, though, so take stock of the relationship. If you don’t have the history, he could easily get defensive.
  5. Identify your contribution to this problem. Is it possible you are misinterpreting things? Be honest.
  6. Indicate your wish to resolve the issue and be specific about what “resolved” looks like to you. This is critical and will provide both of you with a measure so you will both know that the fix is successful. In your case, I would suggest repeating back what you hear to make sure you got it right. Then document all conversations and email them to your boss for confirmation on what was agreed to.
  7. Invite the other person to respond.

The thing I like most about this process is that it forces you to prepare for a conversation about one problem, and one only. You can’t pile on with everything your boss does that drives you crazy, but you can, maybe, make an impact on one thing he does that is impacting your success.

Maybe try a conversation first. If that doesn’t yield anything, then go to HR. You are not the first person to notice this, and this may even be a known problem. Regarding the promotion, you may just have to deal with the fact that it was never a real possibility in the first place. You won’t know until you tackle the fundamental problem with your boss or talk to someone in HR about it.

Happy holidays to you. I hope you get your promotion, and I really hope your boss is OK.

Love, Madeleine

About the author

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!

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