Are you working for a boss who changes their mind more often than they change their socks? Do they get super excited when you present a new idea and you think, “They love my idea!” But, the minute you walk out and somebody else walks in, your boss likes their completely opposing idea just as much?
This can leave you thinking that what this boss likes, is being liked. It has nothing to do with what’s the right decision for the business or how to move forward.
Working for an indecisive, flip-flopping boss can be hard. But, there are ways around this that can make sure your career doesn’t stall because of an indecisive leader.
Don’t Take the Bait
The first really important piece of advice is: don’t take the bait. ‘The bait’ relates to your boss trying to lure you into liking them and getting you to think that they’re the best boss ever.
To do this, they give you all this positive attention and reinforce your ideas to get you on side. But unfortunately, they have a whole team of people, it’s not just you and them, which is why they can’t stick to their decision when they’re exposed to the next person’s idea.
Don’t Get Excited With Them
When you’re talking with your indecisive leader and they’re getting excited about your idea, make sure you don’t get excited with them. Instead, go from talking about the good ideas in your plan to informing them of the downsides, risks and possible issues that could come from it.
With you staying calm, they won’t get as excited and quickly jump on the uphill rollercoaster. It also means that you’re not going to suffer the disappointment of going downhill when you talk to others about the risks later and find out the idea’s already been squashed.
Move to New Ideas
As we mentioned before, it’s really important not to take the bait when your boss first gets excited about your idea. But, after this, you should move onto new ideas and questions, like:
- What’s the next step?
- What haven’t we thought about?
- What are our concerns?
Ultimately, their excitement about the idea is worth nothing until they’re excited about it after having learned all of these other aspects and risks to the plan.
Work Together in Advance
Another coping strategy includes working together with your teammates to go through your individual ideas before bringing it your bosses attention. Working in advance, you can begin to understand all of the different options that people are advocating for, organise them and then bring them to your manager in a meeting.
This gives you a chance to look at the relative pros and cons of each different plan all at the same time. It won’t feel as good in the short term, but looking back you will see that a decision was made much quicker and everyone could move on from the task, which is much better than lingering on something for weeks.
Move Through Their Vague Language
An indecisive boss likes to just keep things open as long as possible because they don’t want to take risks or make anyone unhappy. They don’t want to say “no”, because they want everybody to love them. So, you need to be the helping hand that reduces their need for endless ideas.
You’re trying to help them converge down to the point of a decision. Whilst most of the time I’m a huge advocate for open-ended questions to help understand how your boss is thinking, in this case, you’re probably only getting a window into the very foggy things going on in their head. Instead, you want to do the opposite by cutting through the fog and asking very clear, directed and closed-ended questions.
For example, if your boss says, “I love this idea!” then reply with a direct question like, “Am I authorized to start spending the budget?” There’s not much wiggle room for your indecisive boss to shrug your idea off with someone else’s “great idea” later.
Document Things They Say
In addition to asking closed-ended questions, you also want to very obviously document what is said in response to your idea. During the meeting, you can write on a whiteboard or in a notepad, just making it very clear that you’re documenting the boss’s words.
Once the meeting has finished and you’re back at your desk, you should send an email detailing what was just agreed, so that there is a physical record of it. Now there’s something that everyone can see that says “this is the call, this is what was discussed and now we’re moving forward.” Helping your indecisive boss to converge is a really key piece of the puzzle.
Don’t Reinforce Them
What happens with a lot of these indecisive bosses is they get lots of love, at least in the short term, for this enthusiastic, “I love you” kind of behavior. Yet they don’t get the kind of consequences they deserve for letting ideas slip and slide around, without any real action being made. Hence, what you need to do is not reinforce your boss. Do not give them any positive facial expressions or a grateful tone of voice, if all they’re doing is blowing sunshine at you.
Instead, you want to reserve your reinforcement for situations where they’re actually making a call. If you can see them deciding something or moving an idea forward, then be sure to reinforce that by saying, “I know this was a really tough call. I think that we’re going to be in a much better position now that you’ve made this decision.” You can do that even if the call didn’t go your way. If your boss understands that decisiveness gets them your respect, more than just giving you fake niceties all the time, then that’s going to encourage them to start making the decisions that have been backlogged.
Shifting your reinforcement and positive attention from situations where they’re showing you the love, to situations where they’re showing you the plan, is much better for everyone on the team.
Use the Coping Strategies
It can be hard to work for an indecisive boss, but by putting some strategies into place, you can make your work life and the lives of your teammates much easier. By staying calm and presenting risks upfront so that they don’t come back to bite you later on is a great starting point with any wishy-washy boss. Make sure where there’s the possibility to present multiple options at the same time, so that they have a perspective on the pros and cons and actually have to come to a decision. Then, really save your lavish praise for situations where they make a tough call as opposed to just situations where they take the easy way out and blind you with positive affirmations.
These tips will help you to cope a little bit more effectively and in some cases, they will likely even change your boss’s behavior, making them the better boss that you deserve.