To make sure we're on the same page about dealing with an "incompetent" boss and not a "bad" boss, let's be clear on what the term means. An incompetent person is someone who is functionally inadequate or insufficient in knowledge, skills, judgment, or strength.
If this is what you're talking about then you're right, they are incompetent. It happens. In other words, the boss doesn't know squat about being a manager and probably knows little to nothing about the area of work you do.
While it can be frustrating to have an incompetent boss, an incompetent boss can also seriously damage or derail your career. If they do have a serious lack of knowledge, we know that they can do nothing to help you grow as an employee which means any growth will be yours to make happen through creating your own opportunities outside of your job.
Let's look at the potential damage an incompetent boss can inflict and what you can do to minimize or avoid the career problems that might arise from having one.
How An Incompetent Boss Can Impact Your Career
Bad decisions - Because they don't know your work, the decisions they make can have an impact they are clueless about. They lack insight and understanding. This means the impact to you can range from cleaning up a mess to putting you in a position that makes you look like you tanked the business. It can make you lose precious time and focus or even cause you to get fired.
Bad direction - We look to our boss to provide direction in the form of "how to" all the way to yearly planning. When the boss is incompetent, their directions can be bad or pointless, often leaving important issues untouched.
Bad support - Our boss can be the single biggest supporter of our career trajectory, but if they are clueless about the nature of your work, they may be supporting either the wrong things or person. You can't expect them to really know or understand if you're delivering well. They may be a roadblock in your career or simply no help at all.
When you have an incompetent boss, you have to think through how this person functions in order to use whatever strengths they do have to your advantage or minimally avoid career limiting outcomes.
Let's look at some of the things you can do to deal with an incompetent boss...
1. "Upskill" Yourself
In other words, leadership can come from you. If you know your area well enough, there is no reason to not go ahead creating and pursuing a direction you know will achieve good results for your company.
People who upskill at work are naturally regarded by their peers as an informal leader. Management, although maybe not your direct boss, will notice your initiative. Of course, you don't want to do something that undermines the boss, so keep them in the loop.
2. Figure Out The Problem Spots
The boss's incompetence is annoying, but it usually impacts you and others in specific ways. Try to observe what those are and make a plan to counteract the problem.
I once had an incompetent boss. The biggest issue was that he would sometimes make decisions for the group I managed that negatively impacted the company. I sat down with him and asked if I could either be involved in those decision discussions or to direct the person asking to me directly. It mostly worked. There were times when that direction simply wasn't possible, but people soon learned that they needed to come to me for good decisions. We worked around the problem.
3. Teach Them
Every time you speak to your boss, you have an opportunity to train and teach them about your area. It seems kind of ludicrous to train your boss, but the ongoing investment will be worth it once they are savvy enough to know what you're talking about.
It's very important to avoid being condescending when offering to help your boss get a better grasp on things. Be respectful, and always come from a place of genuine kindness.
4. Look For A Mentor
Just because your boss doesn't bring much in the way of growth doesn't mean there isn't someone in your company or industry that can be good for your career.
Look around for someone at a higher level who is sharp and going places. Ask them to be your mentor. It will be flattering to them and helpful to you to have someone supporting you and helping you navigate your career.
Ultimately, this kind of situation can be damaging to both you and your career. Sometimes it's better for your career to leave rather than try to stick it out. If you've tried several things and there is no improvement, it may be time for you to pursue another career opportunity.
While an incompetent boss can be annoying and frustrating, they aren't the worst kind of boss to have—unless they are nicely packaged with other short comings in the personality department. Many times you can make up for their short comings and also "manage up" as they know innately that they lack many skills and knowledge.
Don't let your frustration get in the way of managing the situation more effectively!
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This post was originally published at an earlier date.