The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “How do you work with an incompetent boss?” is written by Edward Fleischman, chairman and CEO of The Execu|Search Group.
Having to work under an incompetent boss is one of the biggest challenges a professional can face. The first thing you should do if you’re struggling with your manager is assess whether they are truly unfit for their role or whether the friction is merely due to clashing personalities. If you’ve determined that the tension between you and your boss is the former, you should analyze the specific ways in which they are underperforming as a first step toward addressing the problem.
One issue commonly found with ineffective managers is an inability to properly teach and train those working for them. This issue often manifests itself in a lack of professional development and promotions within a group or team under that manager. In addition, ineffective bosses will also often assign only menial tasks to their staff or will micromanage their team and refuse to listen when employees advocate for more freedom or responsibility.
Although it may sound difficult, gaining the trust of a difficult boss is key. If you can prove that you’re a valuable resource to the team and that you can be trusted to manage challenging situations, your supervisor will feel more comfortable relying on you, and the overall quality of the team’s work will improve. Prove your competence by completing tasks ahead of given deadlines to demonstrate that you are capable of finishing them quickly and independently, and that you can handle a larger workload.
Additionally, you can position yourself as an ally to a difficult manager by proactively offering them solutions to their problems. Many managers get promoted because they are good at the work that their department is responsible for, but may lack managerial skills. If you can think of a solution to a problem a manager is having and communicate it to them in a kind way without being condescending, they will greatly appreciate it. You can also employ the same strategy with managers in different departments to demonstrate to others within your company that you are an asset to the team. If you hear of a problem someone else is having, you can go outside the traditional channels and email them or arrange a meeting to offer your advice.
Having any type of incompetent boss can be a huge source of frustration in a role, so professionals should do all they can to avoid the situation in the first place by keeping an eye out for red flags during the application and interview process. In today’s job market, companies need to put their best foot forward to secure the most talented employees, so if a manager shows signs that they would be challenging to work for, you should take your skills elsewhere. For example, if your prospective manager is late to your interview, this could be a sign that they struggle with time management in other situations, and a manager who shows signs of having an ego during an interview is also someone you might want to avoid.
If you do end up in a situation with an incompetent manager, there are a few additional things you should consider. Don’t give in to the temptation to gossip with your colleagues about your manager’s incompetence, as this will only create an unnecessary and counterproductive atmosphere of negativity. If your colleagues complain about your boss, keep the tone professional, and do not allow it to devolve into gossip.
Ultimately, if you have identified your boss’s specific weaknesses and tried to improve the relationship without success, it may be time for you to seek another position, either internally or at a different company. Some bad managerial habits can be deeply ingrained, so it may be a poor use of your time to try to change an ineffective manager.
You may want to cut your losses before you spend too much of your valuable career working for an incompetent boss. On the other hand, many signs of a bad manager are visible to upper management, and it may just be a matter of time before your boss is let go and the problem takes care of itself.