By Dorothy Tannahill-Moran
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 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
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 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 minimise or avoid.
Bed 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 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 rally known 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
‘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.
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.
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 if once they are savvy
enough to know what you’re talking about.
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
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 you’re 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 sort 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