Aug 29, 2022 | Advancing Your Career

My boss makes no sense. What do you do when your boss is insane?

Q. Dear Zenagos, my boss is completely unpredictable. He asks us to do things that make no sense, and he changes his mind with no notice, sending us in the opposite direction. What do you do when your boss is insane?

Most of the time, when your boss’s behavior seems mysterious to you, there is something important that you do not know. People do things that make sense to them, so your boss thinks that the decisions he is making are good ones and that his behavior is appropriate. If you want to understand those decisions, or at least be better prepared for them, then you need to gather some more information.

Examine your context
Be a student of your organization’s situation. What makes your organization successful? What makes a leader at your organization successful? Your boss probably has some incentives of which you are unaware. For example, does your boss get bonused based on increased revenue, instead of on increased profitability? This incentive system can cause management behavior that seems odd to employees who assume that overall profitability is the goal. Your boss is unlikely to reveal management incentives to you, but if you watch carefully, you may be able to figure them out. Incentives often cause odd behavior.

Put yourself in your boss’ shoes
Is your boss dealing with an unpredictable or unreasonable situation himself? Stress often rolls downhill, affecting everyone in the organization. Pay attention to how your boss’ work is assigned or graded, and see if you can determine any patterns. This may at least enable you to predict when emotional bumps are coming.

Learn more about business
Often, decisions that don’t seem rational are driven by financial issues. For example, if your company sticks with an outdated technology, despite the availability of something much better, that may be driven by the costs of switching. Even if the upgrade would improve a long list of items, the company may not be able to bear the cost of the change (either financially or in terms of staff time). Budget cycles often drive decisions. Someone may be waiting for a new budget cycle to begin before approving a new purchase. If you haven’t taken any business courses, consider taking a finance class to learn more about what drives financial decisions at your organization.

Consider that your boss may not be aware of his impact
The probability is high that your boss does not know how you feel about his behavior. Research by the Eurich Group shows that “Even though most people believe they are self-aware, only 10-15% of the people we studied actually fit the criteria” (HBR, 2018). So, the vast majority of bosses think that their employees understand what they are doing and why. One does tend to see things from one’s own point of view.

We don’t recommend that you share your raw feelings with your boss (since he may perceive that as an attack), but you may be able to ask some polite questions that will give you some more background information. If you pose your questions in the context of your own learning and development, you may get a good reception, but be sensitive to how busy your boss is when you ask. Most bosses like to see themselves as good mentors, so if you choose your moments well, you may deepen the trust between you and improve your situation.

It’s decision time
We all vote with our feet, so you need to decide whether this boss and organization deserve your time and energy. If you decide to stay, then you have an obligation to try to understand what might be driving certain decisions or actions. Judging and complaining are not behaviors that lead to promotion and success. So, put on your empathy hat and figure out how your boss’ behavior can be an advantage for you. If you decide to leave, that’s okay. You have almost certainly learned something useful in this job, and you can use what you have learned to be a better boss in the future, when you are the one making the decisions.


Eurich, T. (2018). What self-awareness really is (and how to cultivate it). Harvard Business Review, 1-9. Retrieved on August 31, 2022 from


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