Incompetent Boss

5 Ways To Deal With An Incompetent Boss

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To make sure we’re on the same page about dealing with an incompetent boss and not just a way to be nasty about your bad boss, let’s get on the same page. 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 seriously damage or derail your career. If they do have a serious lack of knowledge, we know that they can do nothing to grow you as an employee which means any growth will be yours to make happen. Let’s look at the potential damage they can inflict and what you can do to minimize or avoid.

Career Impact:

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 get fired.

Bad direction – We look for 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 to your career or simply no help.

When you have an incompetent boss, you do 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 prevail with an incompetent boss:

1. ‘Up Level’ 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 results good for your company. People that do this are naturally followed 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 were ill considered and 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.

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 place of business that can be good for your career. Look around for someone at a higher level who is sharp and going places with some type of a good connection to you. Ask them to be your mentor. It will be flattering to them and helpful to you to have someone helping you and in your corner.

5. Leave

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 something else. This kind of situation can be damaging to both you personally and your career.

While an incompetent boss can be annoying and frustrating, they aren’t the worse kind of boss to have – unless they are nicely packaged with other short comings like being a jerk or tossing you under the train for sport. 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.


Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Dorothy Tannahill-Moran

Dorothy Tannahill-Moran, founder of New Chapter New Life, is a career coach, speaker and author. Download her e-workbook called, Should I Stay or Should I Go?

8 comments

  1. There are devastating long-term consequences that a nice, but incompetent manager brings to the table.
    1. They will be unable to speak up on your accomplishments when asked by Senior Management, as they have no grasp of what you did.
    2. They don’t understand what’s going on. When an issue arises they may accidentally blame you because they genuinely don’t understand the nature or root cause of the issue.
    3. They will shovel any and all issues under one large umbrella as they don’t understand the issue. Someone on the team will now have a lot of issue resolutions to do.
    4. They are ineffective, sometimes destructive when left unattended, especially in meetings. Your manager may promise deliverables that they have no understanding of.
    5. They panic. They may know their limitations at some point, and will say yes to just about anything to avoid repercussions from senior management.
    6. They can destroy your career path. They don’t know what you do, and they don’t want to change the status qua. So when it comes time to ask for a raise, your boss may find it difficult to accept. For one, he has no idea what you did, or the level of effort you put forth.
    7. Even while being nice, they are horrible at defending their team members. How can someone who doesn’t know what’s going on defend you when getting grilled about specifics from upper management?

    Just remember, being nice doesn’t excuse you for being incompetent. Someone eventually will have to carry the burden, and it may end up being you!

  2. To say it is frustrating is an understatement! Incompetent bosses are more often than not tyrants who want to be worshipped, can’t take RESPECTFUL criticism and want to take ALL THE GLORY!! If you are in such a situation ran in the opposite direction as far and as fast ad you can!!!!

  3. Gordon W. Gallimore Jr.

    Wow, what an article. Bad Bosses can wreck your career and your life. Getting away from them is easier said than done. Future bosses will want to speak with them, and this just perpetuates a lifetime being screwed by an idiot. It is very important, that in an interview, and at the least, the first 90 days, to get away from these people if you can. An interview is a two way street. The damage these people get away with is horrific. I have never been able to find out, how employers maintain these sacred cow idiots, but they waste money and resources beyond anyones wildest dreams. I have found its best to get away from them as clean as possible, everything they offer is toxic and stinks. They have not incentive to change. Guard your career path. Great article.

  4. This article nails it on the head. I’ve lost jobs due to incompetent and insecure bosses. They can hurt one’s career, since they cannot be references, and fabricate situations about underlings (to make themselves look good)that their superiors will believe. The harder one works and more knowledgeable he/she is, the more are the odds that they get tossed out of a job. The incompetent people seem to be the ones promoted or get “juiced” into a position they are not qualified for. These incompetent bosses rely on the underlings to do their work, and then take the credit for it. I had the unfortunate situation of bosses who were both incompetent and bullies, and ended up hurting my career in the industries I worked very hard in. Frustrating.

  5. This article applies to me and my current situation. I am the informal leader of our team with a boss who has no previous experience in our field. With that said, she respects me and depends on me to help guide our team and accomplish work plan objectives. For the most part, it is still frustrating because I can do her job, but she can’t do mine. I’ve decided to start looking for position with a different organization. When asked my reason for leaving, what should I say?

    • Hi Shawnta, Just tell them that you had a offer with better career prospects. Even if they want to do an exit interview NEVER say anything negative about the company or staff.
      I had an exit interview once and was completely honest…big mistake, the manager was a total arse and gave me a bad reference later on.
      And NEVER take a counter offer, if you go back to the old company they might see you as a flight risk and not “committed” to the company.
      Good Luck!
      (I’m also saving up some cash and looking for new prospects)

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