Influential Coworker Making You Crazy? Ask Madeleine

February 10, 2024 Madeleine Homan Blanchard

Dear Madeleine,

I just read one of your past columns entitled Latest Team Member Causing Chaos? I recognized the person as what I call HOF—“Hair On Fire”—and we have someone like that at our company. I have been working here for 35 years. I now work directly with HOF herself, and I’ve begun looking for a new job. Your post resonated with me so much. I was stressed out last year and now again. She even pushed me into the hospital once.

I’m a scheduler, and HOF basically makes schedule changes for her benefit. Whatever suits her. Everything you mentioned is exactly how she behaves. I’m trying to think of anything I can do other than just saying “sure, no problem.” I just give her whatever she wants. That’s what everyone on the team does so they don’t have to deal with her ridiculousness. When HOF is away, things are quiet, organized, and well run, so we all know who the instigator is. The whole team agrees she is a psycho.

I really need some advice! HOF is making me crazy.



Dear Firefighter,

I’m sorry the stress caused by this person is making you ill. You aren’t the first to have to contend with an HOF (what I call a “crazymaker”), and you won’t be the last.

Julia Cameron, in her wonderful book The Artist’s Way, coined the term crazymaker. She defined the characteristics beautifully in one of her own blogs here.

I once ran a high performing team that was almost destroyed by a crazymaker. When I checked in with her leader, I found out she was wreaking havoc everywhere in the company. So I was lucky—she was let go, and we were all able to get on with our work.

I see two potential focus areas for you:

  1. Find a way to let HOF’s behavior roll off your back and learn how to manage your own stress more effectively.
  2. Find a way to band together your whole team to revolt and stop HOF from getting away with acting like a psycho.

Learning how to manage stress is a lifelong pursuit. It will probably serve you well regardless of what happens with HOF. I am not an expert on the topic, but there are countless resources available to you. Just ask Google.

The usual stress-reduction advice includes breathing techniques that stop the flow of adrenaline and activate the parasympathetic nervous system (this works—I know). Other typical suggestions are: getting exercise (especially outdoors if possible); hanging out with pets;, meditation; a mindfulness practice; prayer; getting proper sleep; working with a therapist; and, as a last resort, medication. Pick one or two to try, adopt the one that feels like it helps and, well, do it. If anything will help you avoid another trip to the hospital, it is worth committing to.

Also, as it happens, stress reduction methods include developing the ability to set appropriate boundaries with people and say no to inappropriate requests. It sounds like you and everyone else on your team of schedulers could use some help with that—unless, of course, you have somehow received a message from above that HOF must be accommodated at all costs. For more detail on setting boundaries, you can find a post on that here.

Sometimes a crazymaker is so successful at bringing in business, closing deals, retaining high-paying clients, and getting referrals, it’s clear that everyone should do everything they can to accommodate the person. This is often a tremendous source of frustration for those who support rock stars. However, I will also note that such stars often run out of goodwill and end up being only as good as their last deal. They have no friends to get them through the dry spells, and it rarely ends well.

Which brings us to your second avenue for action. My questions are:

  • Where is your boss in all of this? Is anyone in management aware of the problem, and do they have the power, influence, or skills to escalate it to someone who can do something about it?
  • How does HOF have so much power over a whole group? Is it real power or simply perceived?
  • Is there a chance the whole team of schedulers might collectively refuse to work with HOF if she doesn’t comply with the norms everyone else seems to be able to live with?
  • HOF is either aware and doesn’t care, or simply unaware. Can you tell which it is? If it turns out she is unaware, is it possible she might change her behavior if someone were to make her aware?

If, in your assessment, HOF is aware and doesn’t care, but adds so much value to the organization that no one is willing to call her on her misbehavior, finding a new job is probably your best bet.

Here is the thing. It is ultimately up to you to set appropriate boundaries. If you can convince your teammates to do the same thing, it might just work. Of course, I don’t know the details of your work, but it could sound something like this:

  • “Your request to move those four appointments is going to cause chaos in the schedule. I understand you need to ask us to do it in this instance, but please try to avoid these kinds of shifts in the future.”
  • “This request is not appropriate. It will cause a domino effect we can’t control. You will need to get my supervisor’s permission for that.”
  • “We booked those appointments because your calendar was open. In the future, please keep in mind that if your calendar isn’t up to date, we won’t feel confident booking you and your bookings will decline.”

If you get better at setting boundaries, HOF’s next move will be to find someone else on the team who isn’t as good, and she will abuse that person until they quit or get sick. Or, ideally, they’ll follow your example and push back with kindness and respect.

Remember, the only people who get upset when you set boundaries are the people who benefit from your not having them.

One universal law to be aware of: if you don’t build your own skill for setting boundaries in your current situation, you will undoubtedly run into a different version of this problem in your next job.

So in the spirit of “nothing left to lose,” I suggest you try to:

  1. Learn and commit to at least one stress-reduction technique.
  2. Get help from above.
  3. Agree as a team to just say no to the crazy.
  4. Practice respectfully setting reasonable boundaries.

Crazymakers get away with their shenanigans because people let them. You can always hope and pray that they change (they won’t) or that you’ll never run into another one again (you will). Your life will be vastly improved if you learn to stand up for yourself.

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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