It’s been said countless times: “People don’t leave companies; they leave bosses.”
It’s hard working for an incompetent boss under any circumstance. In demanding IT and technology jobs where the workloads can be torturous and the pressure to complete projects quickly is relentless, it’s especially tough. Tougher still is when you love your job and enjoy an excellent rapport with the people you work with.
If it’s any consolation, inept and incompetent bosses are commonplace. Typically, they landed their jobs because a close relative or good friend owns the company or holds a power job. Accept the fact that nothing can be done to alter the situation.
The tough part is coping with them and not allowing them to sabotage your chances of moving ahead.
Instead of taking the obvious out and searching for another job, try and work within the parameters your boss creates and do your very best. It may mean covering for her and even doing her job when necessary in order to get things done.
But the process of adapting to an incompetent boss begins with adopting an ‘it is what it is’ attitude so you don’t beat your head against a wall wishing the situation will change.
Remember that your coworkers are in the same boat. Take advantage of the fact that there is strength in numbers. Form alliances with others and learn how they cope with the difficult situation.
As frustrating as it is coping with an incompetent boss, it can also be an incredible career opportunity and learning experience.
According to the Peter Principle, in organizations, people tend to rise to their highest level of incompetence. If that’s true, unconsciously your incompetent boss could be opening some incredible career doors for you.
Your incompetent boss is also a daily lesson in bad boss behaviour. Every day you get to observe and gather firsthand information you’re not likely to get in a management textbook. You’re going to find out what it takes to be a competent, high-functioning manager.
If you want to survive your incompetent boss and be promoted, think of your stressful situation as a ready-made opportunity to make yourself indispensable. If you stick it out long enough, it’s only a matter of time before your boss’ superiors figure things out.
But it’s another matter if your incompetent boss stands in your way and doesn’t allow you to get your work done. You then have two options: The first is to try and make the best of a difficult situation. The second is to speak to your boss’s boss.
Going above your boss’s head is always a dangerous tactic, especially if she has seniority, clout or powerful allies on the organizational ladder.
If you’re willing to play a Russian roulette-type game with your job, you need to document what is going on and then take it to someone higher on the organizational ladder. If you have others willing to back you, the better for your case. But even then, it’s risky. Just because you’re accompanied by a handful of workers in the same boat, don’t mistakenly think that you’re holding a power hand. You could all lose your jobs.
If you take this precarious route, know what you’re getting into from the onset. Even with the best strategies, be prepared for a bad outcome.
However, it’s a different story when working for an inexperienced boss who lacks confidence because it is her first management position. The best strategy is to air your grievances privately with this person. Keep in mind that this can also be a risky tactic. But if you employ tact and diplomacy, your inexperienced boss may welcome the criticism.
It’s difficult initiating these conversations, but many misunderstandings can be clarified.
If the issue is about communication (or lack thereof), your boss may listen and be responsive to your concerns. Often, many bosses don’t intend to be offensive; they simply don’t think about the impact of their behaviour. Making them aware of it can often yield positive results.
Dana Wilson is a freelance writer.
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