Hey Boss: Your Chaos Is Making Me Anxious

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Have you ever had a boss who seemed to leave behind a trail of disaster? I have. Too many times. There was the boss who threatened team members when he did not like an answer someone gave. The boss who chased the VP of Sales around the conference table when a major deal was delayed. And my favorite — the boss who was as spineless as a worm.

Looking back, it all seems comical. But it was awful when I was living through it. The work and the team suffered mightily from the lack of consistent leadership.

Some leaders may not realize that this behavior is triggering a perpetual anxiety attack for the team. These chaotic bosses are too busy changing course — “winging it” or following some misguided interpretation of what it means to be “agile.” Whatever the cause, the cyclone of dysfunction leaves people feeling anxious.

Sure, a few impervious souls may find a balancing act during the quiet times. But the anticipation of the next outburst can be a major stressor for most, sapping energy and distracting focus.

This is the opposite of how we try to work at Aha! — we reject drama so that we can concentrate on being our best. It is about providing stability, operating on an even keel, and giving people room to grow. When we make mistakes, it is a comfort to know that the team is there to support each other. That way, it is possible to learn from the stumble and try again.

But unfortunately, chaos at work is all too common. And it often starts at the top, filtering down throughout entire organizations. And at what price?

Well, here is what that chaos is costing you:

Good ideas
Everyone wants a work environment where ideas can flourish. But in a chaotic workplace, there is often no reliable leadership to guide those ideas from vision to completion. No traction, the ideas lose steam and completely evaporate. People stop contributing once it becomes clear that even the best ideas are getting lost in the chaos.

Forward momentum
You want a sure-footed group who know where the organization is headed. But when everyone is awash in confusion, it makes for halting progress, especially if plans keep changing with no clear objectives or visibility into the organization’s goals. This chaotic guessing game leads to lost confidence and a fast slowdown.

Team spirit
Every organization will have its ups and downs. But pervasive uncertainty will dampen the team’s enthusiasm and lead to a thoroughly bummed-out group. And when morale plummets, drama follows. Gossip, infighting, furtive meetings — it all corrodes the team. People will check out and (eventually) leave.

Growth
Perpetual crisis mode is not conducive to getting things done. If leaders are too busy being swept up in the pandemonium, how is it possible to steer or help anyone else? Sooner or later, the company’s performance will start reflecting all of that turmoil. And when the storm subsides, stagnation ensues.

Chaos simply cannot prevail for long. It is unsustainable. So if you think you might be contributing to that instability, it is time to change your ways and get back on track.

We are all capable of achieving great things. But to fulfill that potential, people deserve a committed, trustworthy leader who will offer guidance, not confusion — stability, not chaos.

So commit to helping your team reach big milestones. Solve problems instead of constantly pivoting and changing course. It will require effort, no doubt. But then you can all get back to the important work to be done.

How else have you seen leaders create chaos?

About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product roadmap software — and the author of Lovability. His two previous startups were acquired by well-known public companies. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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Comments

  1. Emma

    Oh my goodness Brian this brief article could not be more timely. The company I am temporarily at is exactly as you have described, and this week was tough. Chasing our tails is like an office sport and the boss is constantly late for client appointments! Management is confusing, stressed and angry. New staff get disorganisation training (or ranted at if they get it wrong.) Everyone treads on eggshell and most are too afraid to ask for help. Some people (higher up) don’t even turn up to work!

    Needless to say, the workload gets passed downwards and those at the ‘bottom’ (and even new staff) are being blamed for what really is an organisational and leadership issue. Over 3 months, 3 staff have

    All the talk about great culture, great work-life balance and teamwork is a paradigm or ten away from the reality it seems. Glad to read this, it made me feel better on behalf of all staff so thanks for the article, it is beautiful timing!

    PS totally separate to this, we have some business software potentially rivalling Shopify’s online shop building and management capabilities and with some distinct features. It has and is still being successfully trialled and is just about at commercialisation stage. If you ever want a brief chat we would be pleased to host you if you get a quiet patch between adventures.

    We are also keen adventurers, cyclists, surfers, dancers, avid travellers and entrepreneurial spirits.

    Emma

    Reply
    1. Emma

      PS my iPad froze and sent that unedited. Feel free to erase the incomplete sentence! Have a great weekend. Emma

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