Help! My boss is a hopeless nincompoop

Learning to adjust could be a career-enhancing experience. Incredible as it seems, your boss's ineptitude could be a blessing

Unqualified candidates wind up managers every day.

Imagine how qualified employees feel when passed up for plum promotions?

In a perfect world, the best candidates quickly climb organizational ladders. But it’s not a perfect world and unqualified candidates wind up with great jobs for all the wrong reasons. Heading the list are cronyism (never underestimate the power of good old boys networks), seniority and nepotism (Daddy owns the company).

Consider how new hires feel about reporting to an incompetent nincompoop. What a shock. During the interview process there’s often no way to predict what lies ahead.

How could they possibly know before they accepted the job? More likely, the incompetent manager was perfectly charming during the interview. He asked the right questions, and made a good impression.

Once settled into the new job, the signs of incompetence are blatantly obvious. They include:

Inability to make decisions: An incompetent boss often waffles over decisions that should be made instantly.

Tendency to make bad choices: Ineffectual bosses are likely to make poorly planned, miscalculated decisions.

Ability to keep the job despite failings: It’s shocking how many inept bosses hold onto their jobs despite their failings. Typically, they rely on subordinates to get them through hard times.

Your situation looks far worse than it is. Don’t be so quick to jump ship. Learning to adjust could be a career-enhancing experience. Incredible as it seems, your boss’s ineptitude could be a blessing.

Consider that it’s an opportunity to stand out by becoming an asset to your boss. The more you do and accomplish, the better it looks on your resume. It also scores points with management.

Here are four strategies that can turn unfortunate circumstances into an advantage:

1. Cover in a crisis. If your boss is away on a business trip or vacation and an issue requiring instant decision-making arises, you have two choices: either turn the problem over to a senior manager or make the decision yourself. Calling in senior managers makes your boss look bad. If you’re confident you can take over, make the decision yourself. Remember: Heroes are born in crisis situations.

2. Compensate for deficiencies. It’s to your advantage to discover your boss’s weak spots and help him in those areas. Don’t lose sight of the fact that despite his shortcomings, he is still the boss, and you must show him all the courtesies his position deserves. By the same token, you’d be wise to observe your boss closely in order to spot his deficiencies. He may be unable make fast decisions in emergency situations, for example. He may lack the confidence or knowledge to size up a situation and propose a course of action. Or he may be stymied or immobilized by complex problems. These are ideal situations for you to step in and render an opinion or suggestion. But do it strategically and in such a way so that you’re not stealing his thunder. If you present your ideas respectfully, he’ll quickly see that your solutions make sense. Once you prove yourself, you’ll be the power behind the throne.

3. Your boss’s shortcomings are a ready-made opportunity to demonstrate your skills and stand out. In fact, it could lead to a rapid promotion or a transfer to another department. Rather than just do your job well, look for opportunities to take on new projects. The tougher, the better. Don’t be reluctant to put in extra hours, or even an occasional weekend if you have to. In the long run, it’s worth it.

4. Great work attracts the attention of senior management. Management is impressed by workers who are willing to do more than their jobs job and solve problems no one else can. You efforts will be noticed, because good work travels fast on the organizational grapevine. Management is always looking for superstars.


The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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