One of Your Direct Reports Seems Emotionally Unstable? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I am a senior leader in a large nonprofit. My big struggle is with one employee who seems emotionally unstable. One day she is completely reasonable and easygoing, and the next she is reactive and flying off the handle for no apparent reason.

I’ve learned to expect it, but her behavior is affecting the rest of the team. They are walking on eggshells and one of them recently came to me for help on dealing with the situation.

It feels really personal to talk to someone about this, and I don’t know where to start.

Walking on Eggshells


Dear Walking on Eggshells,

It is your job as a leader to make sure everyone feels safe. It is not okay that your direct report is freaking out other employees. So, I am afraid you are going to have to get personal here.

  • First, since you are in a large organization, involve HR and start documenting. Document every complaint, every outburst, and every disruption.
  • Your employee may be going through a rough time personally. If so, encourage her to avail herself of counseling through your Employee Assistance Program.
  • If it is a self-awareness issue, work with your training department to find her a class or some coaching.
  • If it is bigger than a rough time, she might be suffering from a mental illness. I am not a doctor but I can tell you that one of the books about Borderline Personality Disorder is called Stop Walking on Eggshells.

In any case, you have to set some distinct boundaries by clearly stating to her which of her behaviors are acceptable and which are not. Be direct, be concise, be clear, and keep the tone neutral. Tell her you will be paying attention and will let her know when you see behavior that is over the line. Be strong and fierce.

If she can get it together and behave herself at work, great. If she can’t, she gets a couple of warnings and then she’s out. Just because you can let her behavior roll off your back doesn’t make it acceptable. It would be one thing if your employee weren’t disrupting others, but she is—so you are obligated to do something to make it stop.

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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