Latest Team Member Causing Chaos? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I am a cofounder of a retail swimsuit company that is really taking off. We were lucky the pandemic hit just as we were about to sign leases on some actual stores, so we really dodged a problem that could have tanked us.

About nine months ago, we hired a full-time marketing person. I will call him Marco. He is very creative, super talented—brilliant, really—and we all love the latest catalogue he put together. The problem, and it has taken me the longest time to figure this out, is that he causes chaos.

We are small team—only 7 full-time employees and lots of contractors. Before Marco, we were a well-oiled machine. Everyone knew their job and did their job. There was almost no actual conflict. Sure, we disagreed about stuff, but we always found a way to work things out. Ever since Marco showed up, on any given day at least one person is mad at me and there is constant confusion about who is doing what, how things are getting done, timelines, etc.

Marco causes chaos by planting little seeds of doubt:

  • “Have you talked to X about that timeline? I heard it was shifted back by 30 days.”
  • “I thought B had changed the red layout to pink—are you sure we are going with red?”
  • “Is that decision final? I thought we were still thinking about that.”

So we are all going in circles all the time, bumping into each other and second-guessing ourselves.

I have tried to talk to Marco about this quirk and he gets really defensive right away. When I bring it up, he immediately goes to “You don’t value my work; I don’t understand what your problem is; you are blaming me for how disorganized you are,” and on and on.

Is it me? Help!


Dear Is It Me?

No. It’s Marco.

Normally, I would suggest that you try to give Marco very clear feedback or have “the hard conversation”. But I can’t help sharing my first instinct here, which is that you have a Crazymaker in the mix.

Of course I don’t have all the details, but the tipoff is that pre-Marco you had a well-oiled machine, and post-Marco’s arrival you are a bunch of pinballs bumping into each other.

I first learned the term Crazymaker from Julia Cameron in her book The Artists Way, which has become one of my very few ‘bibles’ over the years. The book itself was intended to be a week-by-week to-do manual to help people discover or recover their creativity. Many of Cameron’s ideas have become part of my own personal toolkit and are tools I have shared with clients again and again.

The idea of the Crazymaker is that we all, either occasionally or as a habit, become involved with people who thrive on drama and chaos. As Cameron says, “They are often charismatic, frequently charming, highly inventive, and powerfully persuasive” (pg. 44). And, in the end, “enormously destructive.”

Here is the way they operate. (The headings are Cameron’s, pgs. 46-49, and the added detail is me.)

  • Crazymakers break and destroy schedules. The CM is the one who sends you email when you are on vacation—a real “unplugged” vacation that you prepared for, that you arranged for proper backup to protect—that begins “I know you’re on vacation, but…”.The CM is the one who will invariably call after you expressly cordoned off time to get your second vaccine, knowing you might feel poorly. The CM is the one who didn’t prepare the critical presentation for a meeting that now needs to pushed back. They are late, even when they have been told how important timeliness is to you. They simply don’t show, they have car trouble, they ran out of gas, or they forgot.
  • Crazymakers expect special treatment. The rules simply do not seem to apply to the CM. They don’t like using the new Teams site, so they still email everything despite an agreement made by all to reduce email. They still text about important details that are better tracked on a spreadsheet, and expect you to keep track of their details. They delete stuff you send them so you have to resend. They hate using the edit function in Google docs so they will do it their way.
  • Crazymakers discount your reality. They simply won’t or can’t hear feedback, preferring to believe that their excuse is more relevant than the fact that something happened. “Yes, but…” is one of their favorite sentence stems, when in fact what they should really be saying is, “Wow, I didn’t understand the impact of that, I am sorry, I will pay more attention, thank you for letting me know,”—which is how “Sanemakers” (my made-up word) respond.
  • Crazymakers spend your time and money. Budgets are for other people. “I know we said we could only spend $1000, but look how cool this is—I just know the extra $5K will be worth it.” Funny—when it comes to bonus time, they won’t be so willing to stick with the plan.
  • Crazymakers triangulate those they deal with. I first experienced the effects of a master CM when I was a cofounder of dotcom startup and was on an extraordinary team of three women. We were joined at the hip and in perfect sync, getting more done in less time than seemed possible. A new person joined our marketing team, and, very shortly thereafter, all three of us were at odds, suspicious of each other, spending precious time looping back trying to regain clarity. Finally, at our daily check-in one night, I pointed out the change in our dynamic and asked that we figure out what was going on. After a moment of silent thought, we all said, pretty much at the same time: “Clarissa.” I went to the head of marketing to see if they were having the same issue. Yup, indeed they were. Clarissa was gone soon after.
  • Crazymakers are expert blamers. “It wasn’t me” is the motto of the CM. It is always someone else’s fault, and if it wasn’t somebody else, it was the weather. Or the pandemic. Or the election. Or the dog ate my homework. This was cute in my eight-year-old son, but we really need employees who have outgrown infantile behavior.
  • Crazymakers create dramas but seldom where they belong. I have a no drama rule. I like to keep my drama confined to Netflix and to the big life emergencies we can’t avoid. I have always told my teams “nobody dies in coaching services.” It can be easy to get caught up in drama. It can even be fun. Research shows that gossip and novelty cause bursts of dopamine in our brains. Dopamine makes us feel good. It’s what is released with alcohol, chocolate, shopping, or when a notification of a “like” on your latest post pops up. It is addictive. But, like all good things, too much of it is, well—too much.
  • Crazymakers hate schedules, except their own. See above.

Finally, and possibly most exasperatingly:

  • Crazymakers deny they are Crazymakers. Remember when I said CM’s are charming and persuasive? They are gifted at building intimacy and using your vulnerabilities against you. The closer you get to understanding that they are responsible for the crazy, the more they will try to redirect the attention to someone or something else. When people are simply a pain in the neck, it is easy to see their antics. When they are super talented and add a lot of value, it can be hard to pinpoint the source of the crazy and to calculate the high cost of tolerating it.

If this information resonates with you, I am probably right. If not, go ahead and prepare to have the hard conversation, give the feedback, and make clear requests. Be ready to track accountability to impose consequences for lack of compliance.

If you do have a Crazymaker, you are feeling it in your gut, right now. Honor that knowing and remember that it is up to you to stop the madness. I have never, let me repeat, never, had a client who let go of a Crazymaker and regretted it. Yes, you will have to find someone else. Yes, you may have to go without for a while. But I guarantee you will never look back. And you will now have radar for the profile and will never let another one into your sphere again.

Love, Madeleine

About Madeleine

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 soon. Please be advised that although she will do her best, Madeleine cannot respond to each letter personally. Letters will be edited for clarity and length.

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