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4 Signs Your Boss is Just as Uncertain as You

The only thing certain about being a leader is that there is an expectation to lead effectively. Managers serve as a liaison between top executives and staff, but what does that really mean. There are layers of ambiguous responsibilities attached to a leader’s job description at every level. Feelings of uncertainty can be overwhelming.  One minute you have all the answers, or you at least have all the experience, insight and swiftness to pull you and your team to safety, and the next minute you are dazed by indecisions, finding yourself stuck with no plan of action or bright ideas on the horizon. No matter how much experience or schooling one has, a leader will never have a pulse on every hurdle, every solution, or every trend in the marketplace. Nonetheless, leaders are expected to press forward and guide businesses and teams to success, regardless of their uncertainty.

Nonetheless, a leader’s uncertainty can leave teams confused, frustrated, and feeling helpless, but it can also be an opportunity for hungry employees to shine. Now is the time to make a conscious effort to be even more present. If you are interested in gaining recognition or climbing the ladder taking the initiative when your boss is just as uncertain as you can help you stand apart from the rest. Pay attention to these four signs and consider supporting tips to work around and support your boss during their moment/s of doubt and hesitation:

1. They Double Talk, Giving Conflicting Instructions.

Can you think of a time when you attempted to seek clear-cut answers/directions from your boss, and every word or statement that came out of their mouth were fillers with pointless information or conflicting messages? If so, there is a good chance your boss was struggling with how to guide you. If your boss is just as uncertain as you, he/she needs to buy time and they do this by either deflecting or confusing you with double-talking techniques. One sure way to buy time is padding the conversation with meaningless recommendations, confusing statements, and longwinded stories in an effort to give the impression of being knowledgeable. When your boss is showing signs of uncertainty there is a good chance that means all hands on deck, even when they don’t say it.  Use this moment as an opportunity to leverage your soft skills and influence action. Embrace their ambiguity and allow yourself to think big to uncover viable solutions. Sophisticated leaders will appreciate your ability to adapt, think strategically, and make valuable contributions amid their moments of uncertainty.

2. They Ask What Do You Think We Should Do.

Have you ever sought direction from your boss and their advice is only to ask you the same question or turn your question into a statement?  Granted, if your boss is asking for your opinion, it is highly probable that they are either wanting to gain another perspective, develop your decision-making skills, or even help you think independently. However, if your boss lacks a meaningful follow-up to your response, there's a big chance, they might lack competence in the area you need assistance with. Believe it or not, this is a window of opportunity that allows you to stray from the status quo with little to no objections, so stretch your mind and initiate a space for a creative thinking engagement. Feel free to share untraditional resources, discuss unconventional solutions, and even involve a diverse group of collaborators to assist with thinking big. It’s so refreshing when a team member steps up without the typical nudge to help navigate through existing noise and workplace stress.

3. They Purposely Make Themselves Unavailable.

When it comes to distractions in the workplace, leaders are faced with endless distractions every day. One way in which they cope is to make themselves unavailable so that they can think. Unfortunately, if you require hand-holding and your boss is using this same tactic because they don’t know what to do or what to tell you, brace yourself because you will not find guidance here. There comes a time when your leader gives a directive, and it's up to you to identify the best way to get the job done.  If you need to make an executive decision, bottom-line thinking can help. Bottom-line thinking is a process to help you gain clarity when assessing a situation and determine the best possible decision. It is a process that helps you press forward while bearing in mind the purpose/mission, and pros/cons of a possible decision. Be sure to identify allies who can help you fine-tune your idea and implement your plan, then, just do it! Remember, nothing beats a failure but a try – You just might get it right! 

4. Their Advice/Instructions Make No Sense.

Have you ever had a manager whose advice always sounds like a bunch of gibberish, making absolutely no sense? Almost as if their talking just to talk (we’ve all been there). Unfortunately, when this happens subordinates are left thinking of all the reasons their boss is inept at leading. But before you send your thoughts into a tail-spin consider three common mistakes competent well-equipped leaders make when talking to employees;

  • failing to effectively communicate the ultimate vision,

  • not offering a snapshot of the (WHY) behind their advice, and

  • not having an understanding of how to execute before relaying the message.

Therefore, make an effort to ask your boss clarifying questions. For example, “I don’t want to take up much of your time, but can you help me understand how that looks? Is there a reason why we are doing it like this versus XYZ?” Make sure you calmly state your objections, remember, you're trying to understand how their advice connects to your task and/or the end goal.

Now, if the advice needed is not pressing and there’s time try to humble yourself by laying low to give your leader time to marinate on both your objections and their advice. Believe it or not, most leaders eventually recognize when they misspeak or fail to make sense. However, the pressure to do more with less spread them too thin; and moving too fast becomes a way of life at the job so be patient. On the other hand, I will not ignore the possibility of your boss being paralyzed by the power of their title and not seeing the need to make sense. Either way, subtle persistence can work in your favor, as well as seeking guidance from someone else in your network.

Building a talented and reliable network is your secret weapon for overcoming many workplace obstacles. If your boss exhibits the same uncertainty as you, sometimes, leverage your talents and resources to support them. If your boss is just as uncertain all of the time, start preparing for some type of change; whether, it’s a change in leadership, a shift in responsibilities, a change in the department/organizational focus, or a simple transfer to a different department, change is coming!

If you are interested in learning about professional coaching that assists frontline leaders with coping with organizational change, stress in the workplace, or talent development services and Myers-Briggs personality assessments, email Kesi Howard at  or log onto

Call today, 412-557-2966.

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