Tips for Managing an Incompetent Boss

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Incompetent bosses are busy all day trying to fake it ’til they make it, and after that, fake it ’til they retire.

I’m not talking about the good-natured boss who is an excellent people manager that supports zir people even though ze is not an expert in the areas ze manages. I had one boss who would remind me before every meeting we attended that ze did not know anything about what we would be discussing. Ze let me be the expert while ze handled the team, the client along with the sales and service processes very effectively.

I’m talking about the boss that is a poor manager and knows very little about the work. This type of boss is busy all day scheduling and attending meetings so ze is never called upon to actually produce anything of value.

Never, ever surprise this boss with information in the presence of another individual. It is guaranteed to highlight zir incompetence. Yes, most people are likely well aware that this boss is incompetent but your boss probably does not know they know, so ze will fault you for exposing zir lack of skills.

Always provide this boss with the chance to look smart during meetings or calls. Brief zir on your thoughts and let zir take full credit. Write it down for zir if necessary.

Meanwhile, you should have ongoing, offline, one-on-one discussions with key meeting attendees or influencers. This way, the people you want to impress will not infer anything negative from your silence or absence during meetings. If people understand that you know your job, being silent or absent from a meeting can actually prove your value, particularly if your boss underperforms in the meeting.

If you are at the meeting and your boss gets stuck, you can helpfully prompt zir by prefacing your comments with words along the lines of, “Boss, you asked me to remind you to mention that…”

At performance appraisal time, some of these bosses may forget just how valuable you are. This is the time to provide zir with a list of all you have worked on. Position yourself as having been instrumental to the project or solution without pointing out that you did all the heavy lifting and handed the solution to zir. If you can get testimonials from others about your contributions, this can be helpful. If possible, request that the appraiser craft the review as crediting you as a representative of your department. This will avoid making your boss feel threatened by your accomplishments. It will also facilitate your boss taking credit for your successes, which ze absolutely is going to do.

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C.N. Dale

Journalist and lawyer with a keen interest in institutional integrity, health and nutrition.