Four ways to keep your sanity and be productive when your boss is not consistent

QUESTION FROM SOUTH CAROLINA: What do you do when top level leadership communication strategies are inconsistent with the new strategy that was actually approved by the same top level leadership which continues to result in more confusion?

Sadly, your question is not uncommon. But, don’t lose hope. You’re not at a dead end. 

Growth, vision and strategy shifts or structural transitions can create problematic confusion for the teams supporting day to day operations. The best intentions and plans inadvertently get sabotaged and leaders get tripped up in a couple of super slippery areas. 

  • Ambiguity. It’s more tolerable, and even productive, at an executive level, but no so much on the ground level. Commitment to a distinct compass is essential to team success.
  • Habits. Aspirational values don’t get lived out in operational behavior. People are stuck in old habits and behaviors. It takes new muscles to bring new movement.

While you may not be in an authoritative position to make organizational decisions, there are things you can do to raise your EQ and develop the soft skills needed navigate the complexities of your environment. When you’re a little overwhelmed, a lot fatigued and discouraged overall; lean into these four key themes to productively navigate your day-to-day responsibilities. 

  1. Redefine the win. If you're not able to move things forward at the current time, at least you can prevent it from going backwards. Look for a few key places where your insight, equity and wisdom affords you a spot to speak up and play the contrarian. Throw a flag when you see foul. Leaders make bad decisions with bad information. So, whenever you have the chance to help course correct with good information--do it. You may not be in charge, but you have the power to propose

  2. Channel energy and activity to be hurricane proof. In other words, build systems to withstand or bend with chaos around them. Build in extra conversation time when you’re scoping projects. When there is clarity and everyone is operating on the same page, you can operate at a pretty fast, efficient pace. But, in the absence of clarity, people are on a different page and it takes times to chase down details, double back on incongruences and bring people together. Plan around the reality that things won’t work like a well oiled machine. Your time might not be spent on efficient projects, but effective conversations. It feels slower because it is. But, that doesn’t mean it’s not working. Make the space for it.

  3. Expose what's hidden. Even though it feels like it, it's not personal. Attack the issues, not people. The only way to prevent multiple truths from proliferating and teams/projects going sideways is get everyone in one room and pull the issues out on the table. Set up a meeting for key stakeholders and decision makers, buy them some coffee and break it down. Outline the definition, perception, expectation and trust gaps that are sabotaging team success and project buy-in. You can’t address the gaps until you expose them. Once key hidden issues are out in the open, things can start to turn the other way. It won't be easy, but it has a chance to head in the right direction.

  4. Hit the reset button. When you feel your blood pressure rising, give yourself a timeout, breathe deep and remind yourself no one is intentionally trying to make your life and job miserable. Try to view the situation from a different perspective. Do your part to share concrete examples of circumstances that contradict the new strategy. Develop 3-5 reasons how the inconsistency is hurting the team and not meeting objectives. Share your goal for clarity and greater team/staff cohesiveness. Make it clear that you believe the best in those around you but are trying to understand the strategy delineations. Be humble. Remember, when you do speak up, you're not instigating conflict, just perspective. You’ve got a different vantage point and you’re seeking to understand and contribute to the whole, healthy picture.

Communication challenges can deteriorate trust between teams, reinforce counterproductive silos, waste resources and grow discouragement. Focus on what you can do to be a productive piece of the puzzle. 

Remember this advice is evergreen. You can lean into it on tough days or tough seasons. At each decision point, determine what is in and out of your control. Be brave, be respectful and be encouraged knowing that things can change. It may just take a little time.