I am at my wit’s end. I am pretty sure my boss has ADHD. She jokes that she doesn’t have it but causes it in others, but it isn’t funny—because ever since I started reporting to her, my life has been total chaos.
On every project, no sooner is the plan written up and sent out than the ideas come flying in. She second guesses the plan, adds action steps (most of which have already been considered and discarded), and adds more big ideas that are not in the scope of what was discussed. These ideas come at me on Slack, text, and email, and she calls me at all hours of the day and night with more. I put my phone on silent when I go to bed and wake up to a slew of random thoughts from her.
I can’t get through an hour of focused work time without at least three interruptions from her. I feel like I have to respond because she is my boss. She is always moving 100 miles an hour and asking questions she doesn’t give me time to answer. She is driving me nuts.
Otherwise, I like the job and the company. What can I do to get control of this situation?
Dear Driven Mad,
I did a spit take at your boss’s joke because I once worked for someone who made the same one. Like you, I found it funny at first and then I wasn’t at all amused. I can relate to your situation—so let me first say I am sorry for how hard this is for you.
That being said, it might be helpful to remind yourself of some of your boss’s good qualities. The positive aspects of people who fit her profile are often intense creativity, the ability to be flexible, excellent troubleshooting and problem solving skills, and more than average amounts of energy. Clearly, she does some things well enough to have come as far as she has. But if she is wreaking havoc with your ability to concentrate, you have to find a way to protect your own sanity. Your boss obviously knows she drives people nuts, so at least she has some awareness. I think you must involve her in crafting a working relationship that you can live with.
It’s not so much about giving her feedback—she has already heard it all, I am certain. But you can get clear about exactly what she expects from you in terms of how you respond to her. It could be a series of questions. Some examples might be:
- You have a lot of ideas, which I appreciate. I wonder if you expect me to respond to each and every one of them, or are you simply hoping that I will weave them into the plan and deliverable as I see fit?
- When you send me thoughts and ideas, how do I know which ones you want me to respond to directly vs. which are simply FYI’s?
- I often plan focused work time to get things done. When you ping me during those times, I feel obliged to respond because you are my boss—but would it be okay with you if I respond when I take a break between focused work time sessions? What is your thought on this?
- It is hard for me to distinguish which communications you expect me to take action on and which are just tips you think might be helpful in my work. How do you suggest I do this?
- Is this fun speculation or is this something you want me to flesh out and include in the deliverable?
I think people like your boss just expect that others are like them—fueled by lots of activity. It might be helpful to talk about the difference in your work styles and how she expects you to navigate those differences.
It sounds like your boss’s heart is in the right place and that she is probably unaware of the impact she is having on you. The joke she made does signal that she doesn’t expect you to take her firehose style to heart. So one thing you can do when she comes at you is just breathe and listen. When she asks questions that she doesn’t give you time to respond to, it probably means she doesn’t need you to answer but is just thinking out loud. That’s okay. It isn’t personal. Just breathe, listen, take notes if she says something truly brilliant, and let the rest go.
So have that conversation. Steer away from blame or judgment—“you are driving me nuts” might not work very well as a starter. But something like “you and I have very different work styles, and I would like to find a happy medium where we both get what we need to be productive.” Create some rules of the road together and let everything else roll off your back so you can simply focus. Bosses like her depend on direct reports like you to transform great ideas and creativity into executable actions, and she probably knows that.
In my experience, a lot of very successful people with a genius level IQ behave the way your boss behaves. It’s okay. You can learn to navigate it as long as you don’t expect her to change and don’t take it personally.
Harness your sense of humor, keep being good at what you do, and protect that focused work time so you can keep your head on straight.
Breathe. Listen. Learn to ignore what you should ignore and pick out what matters most.
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.
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