Dealing With Incompetent Bosses

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By Dimitri A.C. Ly, Career Advisor

It's no secret that poor leadership can leave a business in ruins. Consider General Motors' former C.E.O., Rick Wagoner, whose questionable guidance cost the company approximately $82 billion in the past four years. Is it any wonder President Obama demanded his resignation? Managers come in all shapes and sizes, and you need to recognize their different attributes when dealing with incompetent bosses.


The Corporate Bully

Characteristics: Rude and drunk with power, corporate bullies will go out of their way to humiliate you in front of clients, colleagues and, of course, their own superiors. Their management strategy consists of making condescending remarks during performance reviews and threatening to fire you every time there's a problem, whether or not you're at fault.

How to Handle This Boss: Dealing with incompetent bosses like the corporate bully can be challenging. The trick is to fly under your supervisor's radar while drawing attention from the higher ups. Always stand up for yourself, but be subtle about it -- a disapproving look can go a long way -- and find a mentor who can expose you to new opportunities as well as shield you from your manager's temper tantrums.

The Micromanager

Characteristics: Everyone is familiar with the saying, "If you want something done right, do it yourself." Micromanagers live by it, nitpicking every aspect of your work, including the number of seconds by which you deviated from your scheduled break. Granted, they provide great support if you don't mind having someone constantly checking on your progress, but if you value your independence, you're in trouble.

How to Handle This Boss: When dealing with incompetent bosses of the sort, it's important you never appear as if you're trying to usurp their authority. Micromanagers are typically insecure, so it's best to keep them apprised of all your actions. However, only do so after the fact. The idea is to give your supervisor the illusion of control while remaining reasonably autonomous.

The Office Politician

Characteristics: Cowardly and duplicitous, office politicians always put their needs over those of the team. They may act like your best friend, but they'll stab you in the back the minute you get too chummy with senior management. Broken promises, misinformation and stolen ideas are all par for the course when dealing with incompetent bosses of this kind.

How to Handle This Boss: The best way to protect yourself against an office politician is to communicate in writing. That way, all your questions, requests and proposals become official record. If your boss tries to finalize the agreement verbally, follow it up with an e-mail confirmation, making sure to CC at least one other person in the company.

The Senior Enforcer

Characteristics: Usually promoted because of seniority, this type of boss is devoid of common sense, following procedures to the letter and shutting down every effort to innovate. Terrified of making a decision, senior enforcers also have trouble with the notion that maintaining employee morale is among their duties, so don't expect any sort of flexibility.

How to Handle This Boss: It's important you remain solution-minded when dealing with incompetent bosses, especially those lacking initiative. However, keep in mind that senior enforcers are notoriously resistant to change, so don't bother introducing any groundbreaking ideas until you have a few allies ready to back you up. It's also best to wait for a large meeting before making your proposal.

The Drama Queen

Characteristics: The term refers to managers of any gender who spend most of their day complaining, turning every mild inconvenience into a full-blown problem. Self-centered, disruptive and incapable of forethought, they reject the most obvious solutions just to prolong the situation and make every confrontation personal. Drama queens are never satisfied.

How to Handle This Boss: Don't let yourself get sucked in by all the negativity. It's crucial you remain positive and solution-minded, offering your counsel in private, so as not to offend your supervisor. Another way of dealing with incompetent bosses like this is to ignore their tantrums. Avoid eye contact whenever possible, and schedule your breaks according to their peak complaining hours.

The Silent Strategist

Characteristics: Silent strategists often make the workplace unbearable because you can't tell where you stand with them. They rarely provide feedback and tend to make important executive decisions without informing their staff, relying on a select few to carry out their master plan. As a result, the left hand never knows what the right one is doing.

How to Handle This Boss: Dealing with incompetent bosses of this sort can be unnerving, but it's important you keep your paranoia in check. Silent strategists usually don't realize what they're doing wrong, so don't be afraid to voice your concerns and share your innovative ideas. You may become part of your supervisor's inner circle and bring about real improvements.

Speak Out

It's easy to feel powerless when dealing with incompetent bosses, especially when they're running the office into the ground, but it's crucial that you assert yourself and try to affect change. Denouncing your supervisor can be delicate, but there's no reason you shouldn't suggest ways to streamline the company. When all is said and done, it may well save your job.


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