Career development

Advice from an expert: Does your manager often get good ideas?

Unpredictable managers with many spontaneous ideas can cause problems for employees who thrive with fixed structures and clear tasks. But opposites can meet and mutually benefit both parties.

Bosses boiling over with good ideas can be inspiring and spread excitement among employees.  But for some employees, a whirlwind of ideas and changes can be very stressful. 

These employees need structure and predictability to able to perform in their job. A spontaneous manager who frequently changes direction or constantly suggests new ideas can cause frustration and confusion, and differences in temperament and approaches to working life can result in conflict and lack of wellbeing/job satisfaction.

As an employee you need planning, direction, clear goals, focus and results. There can be misunderstandings if a manager just throws out a feeler and it's interpreted as an order. This causes uncertainty regarding how to prioritise tasks, and what is the right thing to do to be successful.

But this doesn't have to be an insolvable dilemma. There are ways to deal with the problem, so both the employee and the manager arrive at a common understanding.  

Benefits of an impulsive manager

Having a spontaneous manager can benefit both parties. The manager will usually be flexible and quick to change direction when necessary.

The manager will be open to employees' suggestions for improvements and more flexible processes. Too much planning can make work rigid, and under all circumstances a manager will need room to manoeuvre to address changing conditions.

Having said that, it's always a manager's responsibility to clarify to employees what is expected of them, what they should do and why.

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Three tips on how to deal with a spontaneous manager

For the employee it's about understanding what you have to live with and what you can live with, and what you can influence realistically. And not least it’s about making the best of the contrasts, if you otherwise like your job and your workplace. Below are three ways to deal with a spontaneous manager: 

1) Fence in your job

In this context, it's obvious to use the staff development interview to talk strategy and future and to clarify your role and your tasks. The manager's job is to help you understand what you have to do, to do your job satisfactorily and to be successful.

This can provide a frame of reference you can lean on for the rest of the year when new changes occur and help your manager understand what you want in your job.    

2) Play along and make your manager better

Listen and ask about the reasons for new changes of direction and ideas. It's about having an objective dialogue to clarify whether this is an informal brainstorm or there are actual specific plans you need to act on.  

A spontaneous manager will often have blind spots for the consequences of all the suggestions, and this is where you can help make them more specific. All scenarios have probably not been thought through. And remember that the manager is not necessarily deeply in love with the new idea, but is likely to be receptive to your input – positive and negative – if your arguments are good.

3) Make sure to continuously match expectations

Again, it's all about maintaining dialogue and that it is only reasonable that you have a clear framework for your work, so you know that you're on the right track and able to live up to what is expected of you.

So, you can do a lot yourself to establish ground rules to deal with a spontaneous and unpredictable managerial style. But if this doesn't work, and if you aren’t thriving with interruptions, changes in direction and uncertainty, it's probably a good idea to look for another job, where you feel comfortable with your manager, the work culture and your assignments.