Anybody out there ever had a boss who was so random that ripping out every fiber of your hair appeared calming? Every been managed by someone whose erratic and random behavior causes you some much stress that you become confused at work, doubtful about your abilities and constantly make mistakes?  What about being managed by an extremely distrustful, micro-manager, someone whose randomness so extreme? What about the random type whose episodic outburst of distrust attributes all failures to an employee? Ever had one of those?

A common misconception is that the skills required to be a successful entrepreneur are exactly the same as those required to be a successful manager. Wrong.  Recent interactions with a successful entrepreneur focused the questions posed above. It left the WINN team wondering whether in management theory there is as a “random manager” and if so, what is it?  In practice there are managers who operate in a random fashion. So, what is a random manager? It is a person who holds a managerial position who lacks any form of routine, operates purely at the subjective level, who operates at the level of self satisfaction. This is a person who is characterized by indecision and who sometimes is so image conscious as to become functionally counter-intuitive.  A random manager finds it impossible to operate by any form of plan, or consistent behavior. A random manager believes that she or he is perfect. She or he changes her or his mind at a whim and cares very little how the randomness in her or his behavior affects others.  A random manager is not necessarily technically and functionally incompetent, though from the perspective of people management s/he often is.

Conceptually, random managerial behavior can arise from a variety of sources. Firstly, randomness can be the result of a system that forces the manager to make seemingly inconsistent decisions and accomplish tasks without an overall plan. Secondly, randomness might be caused by the chaos caused from constantly putting out fires. In this case randomness arises from runaway operations. A third tentacle of randomness is not randomness at all. It may appear random, although it is part of a deliberate strategy to keep employees on edge. In this type of randomness the manager has an insatiable desire for the command of information to help drive what publicly appears random, but privately is a sinister people management strategy. This third prong, is randomness by design.   Fourthly, there is randomness through confusion. Here the issue is that the manager is in over her or his head and is so confused that she is drive by activity and manages by the “fly”. In this scenario, the manager changes decisions as he or she goes along seemingly to adapt to environmental stimuli, or to changes after she or he thinks about things and arrives at a different conclusion. Lastly, there is randomness. Fifthly, randomness can arise from the manager’s personality. In this case, the manager acts before thinking and constantly refines or changes activity as her or his thought process becomes clearer at the subjective level. Lastly, randomness can arise as a result from a collision of the entrepreneurial mind and the taxonomy of skills needed to be a good manager.  Many entrepreneurs are driven by the identification and capitalization on a deal. These are people who are deal driven. For many of them, they cannot pass up a deal and are able to rationalize expenditures to take advantage of a deal. As a result, many entrepreneurs who have not yet graduated to seasoned managers get sucked in by the tug and war between the mindset of an entrepreneur and that required to be a “manager”.  What sometimes result is seemingly random behavior looked at through the prism of their employees.

Regardless of the source of the random behavior, it is often maddening to be managed by a “random manager”.   Employees caught in whirlwind of such a manager’s sphere of influence can and often are reduced to tears, as there appears to be little rhyme or reason to what the manager does. All of this begs this question: How does one cope with a random manager?

Here are a few strategies.

  1. First and foremost learn how to manage yourself:
  2. Remember the random behavior has nothing to do with you. Patience is your friend;
  3. Figure out what is driving the randomness at the moment and modulate your own behaviour to align with it, or not to fuel it;
  4. Be respectful as you set principled boundaries. Be firm, not foolish in how you articulate and enforce those boundaries. For instance, you can make it plain that you are not going to take the blame for faux pas resulting from random and conflicting decisions.
  5. Get written instructions for tasks assigned to you. You do not need to wait to get those instructions per se. Email is your friend. The point is use whatever vehicle that may be at your disposal to confirm instructions in plain and simple language;
  6. Control your body language, your tongue, and filter out all thoughts that are incompatible with humility;
  7. Offer your opinion, if possible, to alert the manager of the likely conclusion of the random behavior. If and when the risk is materialized, refrain from saying I told you so.
  8. Let the randomness flow to its natural or unnatural conclusion. Remember, master-servant law requires an employee to “obey” first and ask questions later. So, as difficult as it may be for you to rise above the randomness of the behavior, zip your lip with a paper clip, be bold and do what you are told, because in the end, your are being paid to follow instructions, even when you can envision a disastrous end.