Get All Access for $5/mo

Ever Had a Boss Who Seemingly Thrived on Endless Chaos? Erratic leaders, who mandate frequent deadlines but constantly change course, net few results save for finger-pointing.

By Brent Misso Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

My wife enjoys telling stories about her first part-time job in high school. Her boss was fond of saying, "Time to lean, time to clean," which clearly implies that employees should always be doing something, and that there is always something for them to do.

You have probably worked with people that live in this mode perpetually and have internalized this perspective so thoroughly that they cannot even see when ceaseless, mindless action becomes tail-chasing behavior that runs counter to sound logic. Worse yet, when the random action goes along with constant, nitpicking intervention, it actually becomes harmful, wasteful and unproductive. Such an environment easily leads to the vicious cycle of fire starting, the constant creation of new fires, and the entire group seeing everything as a fire to be battled.

At its most extreme, such a firefighting mentality beats up the work force to the point where employees simply wear out, tune out and eventually drop out -- either mentally or literally. Human beings cannot function well on high alert for very long, nor can they truly attend to a continuous bombardment of urgent tasks. The whole "app-happy" mentality only feeds the feeling of urgency. Such a state becomes worse when information is sketchy and directions are vague or even contradictory.

Related: The Truth About Multitasking: How Your Brain Processes Information

I experienced a work environment where everything was always urgent and where "multiasking" was worn as a badge of honor. The leadership forced the group to approach each initiative and all interactions as a unit of firefighters would view a five-alarm fire.

But unlike a skilled unit of firefighters, confident in their preparations and plan, we usually experienced the discomfort of knowing that we were flying by the seat of our pants. Some of us would ask, Why are we doing this? Why are we running at everything on full tilt? What are the available options when we run out of firepower?

There was always a vague nonanswer. The leadership's track record taught us that most decisions were made in haste, if not devoid of any information or grasp on reality.

Supposedly urgent goals were mysteriously tossed aside in favor of some other more urgent goal decided upon in secret. Promises were made to customers behind our backs -- promises to provide additional services when we were already struggling with our current operations. And the deadline for everything was always last week.

We spent a great deal of time and energy keeping track of deadlines that we did not truly intend to meet, and we chased stakeholders who never intended to keep their commitments. Running out of control, we did a lot of backtracking and apologizing. Only the apologies were never sincere, since we were not making any effort to change anything. An apology losses its impact after the first or second time and makes you and your team look foolish.

Related: 5 Bad Habits That Are Harming Your Business

Always behind schedule, we were frequently trying to do too many different things for too many people. There were way too many moving parts for a fairly simple endeavor. As a result, paranoia was rampant, which caused members of the group to confront one another about mistakes. All the random motion wasted more time and multiplied problems, which led to more urgent issues and instances of individuals covering their backside.

A business should never reach rock-bottom before the leadership comes to grips with the situation. A leader's owning up to obvious problems is the crucial first step toward a company's recovery.

The second and most important step is for such a leader to STOP the cycle of bad behavior. The world is full of leaders who are actually chaos junkies, and they spread bad habits to others wherever they go. True leadership is about having a clear, concise vision for what must be accomplished. It means providing a straightforward plan consisting of two or three modest, achievable goals that anyone in the group can explain in two or three sentences.

It also means having the maturity to truly understand a group's strengths and then streamline the operation to suit one or two quality products or services. A high level of thought leading to a minimalist approach can bring success by pleasing a small circle of happy customers.

Over the years, I have learned from the fire of battle that the idea of a business existing in controlled chaos is nonsense. It is only chaos that controls a business oriented toward chaos.

Leadership that promotes working out of control, whirling around like a madman, only shows poor leadership. It points to bad communication and an inability to make decisions. It also speaks volumes about the amount of care that goes into the business.

Stakeholders, employees and customers will immediately notice the disturbing signs of poor leadership, and more of them will choose to go elsewhere.

Related: Can You Evolve From Control Freak to Emotionally Intelligent Leader?

Brent Misso

Business Owner

Brent Misso has taught at the University of Wisconsin, Arizona State and Oregon State and worked in organizational development and training in the tech sector. His firm, EBM Research and Systems, helps people to learn and work better with other humans and systems technologies.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick

Side Hustle

This 26-Year-Old's Side Hustle That 'Anybody Can Do' Grew to Earn $170,000 a Month. Here's What Happened When I Tested It.

Stephen Alvarez was working at a dental supply company and following his passion for cars on the side — then an Instagram ad changed everything.


How AI Is Revolutionizing the Marketing Landscape (and How to Use It Ethically)

The marketing landscape is undergoing a significant transformation due to rapid advancements in AI. Amidst this innovation, the crucial role of identity verification is highlighted as essential for ensuring ethical and effective AI use in marketing.

Business News

Elon Musk Reignites Feud With Mark Zuckerberg Over July 4th Vacation Video: 'I Prefer to Work'

Zuckerberg went wake-surfing over the holiday weekend, while Musk claims he was working.

Business News

Over 10 Billion Passwords Have Been Exposed in the Largest Password Hack in History

The data is thought to have been collected over the past two decades.

Growing a Business

Discounts and Deals Used to Be Enough to Make Loyal Customers — But Not Anymore. This Is What You Need Now.

Building brand loyalty today requires more than just low prices, discounts, deals and referrals for deeper, lasting relationships with customers.


Take Advantage of the Booming Value Gym Market with a Pure Fitness Franchise!

Pure Fitness gym franchises are rapidly expanding in the low cost and flexible gym membership business that offers a resilient and flexible business model which helps achieve success in any market.