Have A Reputation for Being Moody? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I run a rapidly growing not-for-profit. I put together a great board, our fundraising efforts paid off, and I have a great team.

In a recent chat, my head of accounting made a crack about needing to wait to share something with me because he wanted to catch me “in the right mood.” I called him and asked him to explain what he meant. He was kind of surprised I called him out on something he expected me not to notice, and was obviously afraid he had offended me. After several attempts, he finally spilled it. What he said really has me thinking.

The bottom line of his message was that I am really moody. No one on the team ever knows what state I will be in. They are always nervous I will be in “one of my moods,” and they know to watch for it and avoid me on those days.

I was shocked and offended, but I knew enough not to take it out on him. The truth is, I am moody. I have always been moody. I am super creative, I have a really high IQ, and it drives me nuts when I have to slow down or explain something more than once. I have very high highs and very low lows. I thought I was managing it so people didn’t notice, and it embarrasses me to admit this when it is so obvious now how wrong I was. I didn’t realize how much of an effect my moodiness has on my team. But now that I really look at it, I can see how it has impacted all of my personal relationships, not just work ones.

I know I need to do something about this. All my online results are trying to convince me that I have a personality disorder and need therapy and/or drugs, but that feels like overkill. I just don’t know what I can do on my own or where to start. I would appreciate your take on this.



Dear Moody,

“The hardest thing about being a leader is that you have to behave yourself all day.”

Lee Cockerell, who was the executive vice president of operations for Walt Disney World® Resort for ten years and who trained over 7000 leaders for Disney, said this when he spoke at one of our company events about a decade ago.

At the time, my husband and I caught each other’s eye across an auditorium of people because we had never heard that truth stated quite so succinctly. And because he was speaking to us.

This statement is true for every leader, but it is more of a challenge for people who are super intense, who think and move quickly, and who have more ideas than they know what to do with.

You have self-awareness, Moody, which is a critical important first step. In addition, you got the memo that your natural tendencies are impacting others in a way that is eroding your effectiveness, which is the important second step. So you can pat yourself on the back and give yourself a little credit.

The next step is to dig deep to find the motivation you need and to practice the self-regulation you need to change your behavior. You may be able to tap into the purpose that drove you to start a not-for-profit in the first place. Another possible angle is to decide once and for all that your job is to serve your people, not to serve yourself and your moods. You are a powerful person, Moody, and you have power as well. It is important to always remember that your job is to use your personal and position power for good.

Finally, you will need to address your moodiness. This is a two-pronged project. You will need to do two things:

  1. Figure out what causes your mood swings to see if you can make some changes.
  2. Find ways to manage your behavior when you are in the grips of a mood.

These are two different things and the distinction is important. Many people mix the two together, which is what causes confusion.

1. Reducing the wild swings

    You can start this one on your own. If you can’t make headway, enlist the help of a professional. Start right now by noticing your mood patterns. What affects your mood? Things to examine:

      • Lifestyle: There are so many lifestyle factors that can affect mood: Sleep, caffeine, exercise, meditation/yoga/prayer, diet, proper hydration. It is astonishing the extent to which blood sugar can affect mood, not to mention our ability to moderate our own impulses. So make sure you eat high-quality foods on a regular basis. Also, the effects of using alcohol and other substances can take a toll on mood. I know this is obvious, but what may not be so obvious is that it gets harder for the body to metabolize what are essentially neurotoxins as we age, and sometimes it takes a while for people to register that they can no longer get away with the same stuff they could in their youth.
      • Fun: Are you having any? Are you doing enough of the things that bring you joy?
      • Tolerations: Take stock of all the seemingly small things you are putting up with, such as: A light bulb in the fridge needs replacing, but you only remember when you open it and can’t find what you are looking for. There’s a re-occurring charge on your credit card for an app or service you thought you’d cancelled. The temperature regulation in your shower is wonky so you either get scalded or shocked, and the next available date the plumber can come is weeks away. None of these things are a big deal in the grand scheme, but boy, when they start to add up, it can really push you over the edge. Tolerations need to get handled by either delegating them or making the time yourself.
      • Pay attention to what elicits a radical change in your mood. Once you have a sense of what throws you off, consider what you can change: what can you eliminate or delegate or avoid? How can you change the way you focus your time and attention?

    2. Regulating your own behavior despite moods

      • Protect yourself and others from your moods. If you are having a bad day, move meetings and do something that doesn’t require you to interact with others—admin work, research, writing, etc.
      • If you get seriously triggered, go for a walk around the block and let yourself cool off.
      • You can lose your mind and write whatever you want to express how you feel, or record on your phone whatever you want to say to someone you are annoyed with. But you can never send that email, text, or voicemail. JUST DON’T SEND. You can always revise when you feel more reasonable. You will never, ever regret something you didn’t say in the heat of the moment.

    The skill to learn that will help you to both even out your moods and manage yourself when your mood goes dark is mindfulness. It is a big buzzword right now, and everyone has a book or class or program to sell you. Don’t let me keep you from educating yourself, but you can start practicing right now by simply noticing—paying attention—to your thoughts and feelings as they occur, with curiosity and without judging. This will build on your initial self-awareness and help you understand your own weather systems better. Keep notes on what you notice, what works, and what doesn’t.

    Don’t try to do everything all at once; choose one thing to start with. Start small and don’t give up. If you can’t stick to it alone, this is a perfect thing to work on with a coach.

    If you find that you can’t manage your moods with lifestyle changes, eliminating a lot of dumb stuff that sets you off, and finding more joy in your life, find a mental health professional to address underlying issues you may have. Any decent coach will know to refer you to a therapist if that is what is needed.

    If not now, when? This isn’t something to leave for later. Your efforts will make a massive difference—to you, the people you work with, and the people you live with. And of course, to the success of your business.

    Love, Madeleine

    About Madeleine

    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.

    Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response soon. Please be advised that although she will do her best, Madeleine cannot respond to each letter personally. Letters will be edited for clarity and length.

    About the Author

    Madeleine Homan Blanchard

    Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a Master Certified Coach and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. She is coauthor of Blanchard’s Coaching Essentials training program, and several books including Leverage Your Best, Ditch the Rest, Coaching in Organizations, and Coaching for Leadership.

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