My boss is amazing. She has been a mentor for me and I admire her and learn from her every day. She has freakish stamina, is extremely bright and creative, and has a ton of experience and a huge grasp of strategy, management, and execution. There is nothing I wouldn’t feel comfortable asking her.
She is also nuts.
She wasn’t always nuts. But about eighteen months ago, she started having hot flashes in meetings and using a little iPhone-powered fan. I have also been witness to memory lapses and occasional irrational behavior. One minute she is totally normal and the next thing I know she is contradicting something she said the day before, not making sense, and seeming just plain nuts. A few days ago when I pointed out to her that she was telling me to do the opposite of what we had agreed on, she blew up at me.
I mentioned this to my mom and she said, “Oh yeah, the wild hormone shifts in menopause can make women go crazy.”
So I’m pretty sure my amazing boss is in the throes of menopause. I am hoping you can help me figure out how to deal with her when she goes off the rails. She doesn’t seem to be aware of how unreasonable she can be. Help!
My Boss is Having Hot Flashes
Dear My Boss is Having Hot Flashes,
Ah, my favorite thing: amateur family member diagnosis! And such a politically incorrect diagnosis it is! Your boss may indeed be suffering from hot flashes, mood swings, memory loss, brain fog, and insomnia—all of which are, indeed, classic symptoms of peri-menopause and menopause. Who wouldn’t be cranky? I am probably around the same age as your mom, so I happen to know all about this topic.
But really, so what? I guess it would be easier to deal with if you thought this was a finite situation that would eventually go away on its own. But the fact is, your boss’s behavior could be caused by any number of conditions or situations that are really none of your business. She might have something terrible going on at home, or she might be dealing with a serious health issue. You just don’t know, and you can’t assume.
So the question is this: how do you cope when someone who is normally a paragon of sanity behaves irrationally?
Strike when the iron is cold. One terrific book that really helped my husband and me when we were raising teenagers is Yes, Your Teen is Crazy!. The author advised readers to “strike when the iron is cold.” This means that you shouldn’t try to engage in the heat of the moment, which I think applies when anyone is acting crazy. In the moments your boss is behaving oddly, just stay calm and breathe. Don’t react or try to reason with her when she is hot under the collar. But pay attention to errors or inconsistencies—even take notes if you need to, so that when the time comes for you to talk about it, you can be super clear.
Have that hard conversation. It sounds like you have a great relationship with your boss, so in a calm moment, ask for some time and permission to share some observations. Be neutral and non-judgmental, but outline as objectively as possible what you have seen. Include the effect her behavior has on you—that it has made you confused and worried. She will probably be appalled and embarrassed. She must know her behavior has been erratic. It is really hard to watch yourself from the ceiling acting like a lunatic—unfortunately, I know this from experience. So hopefully, acknowledging it will help her. But if she shuts down the conversation and refuses to discuss it? Well, at least you tried.
Take notes and send them out. No matter what she does, try to maintain clarity about your job. One way to keep things really clear—and avoid he-said-she-said arguments about what was decided—is to take notes in every meeting, including a list of agreements, and send them to all meeting attendees. That way, you have a record and it isn’t just your memory vs. someone else’s. This is a good discipline to develop anyway, and will serve you well for your entire professional career.
Document the behavior in question. It’s possible that things may not improve and you eventually will have to go to HR. If this happens, you will need a record of incidents with dates and clear accounts of what happened. Even if you never need this record, it might help you find patterns or clues that will enable you to cope more effectively. I did this once with an employee and it helped me realize that Mondays were not good days to try to have planning conversations with her. I never could put my finger on why, but I just steered clear of anything taxing on Mondays. Apart from that quirk, she was a stellar employee.
For the love of Pete, don’t crack any jokes about menopause. We middle-aged women are not amused by being the source of others’ entertainment.
Given the high regard in which you hold your boss, I would say you can probably find it in your heart to cut her some slack while also taking care of yourself. Be kind, be patient, and keep your sense of humor.
If your diagnosis is correct, this too shall pass.
About the author
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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