November 9, 2011
How to deal with an incompetent boss
Q: My boss, “Jerry,” keeps trying to reduce his workload by giving me assignments that he should do himself. He also fails to follow up on important issues, which often leads to a crisis. When this happens, Jerry tends to fabricate facts and blame others, including me.
I have never complained about Jerry’s management style, but I suspect he knows how I feel about him. On my last performance review, he rated me “satisfactory” in areas where I had previously been “outstanding.” Since then, I’ve been keeping meticulous records to protect myself.
After 17 years with this company, I have no intention of leaving. I’m sure Jerry’s incompetence will catch up with him eventually, but until that happens, how can I preserve my career? Talking to upper management is not an option, because Jerry is good friends with the executives.
A: Having a difficult boss who is well-connected creates a challenging set of circumstances. Since there is little hope of changing Jerry and apparently no avenue of appeal, your only remaining choice is to start “managing up” in a politically intelligent manner.
The declining appraisal rating is a clear sign that Jerry is not happy with you. He may be a self-protecting slacker, but he can still affect your career and reputation, so you need to repair this relationship.
First, you must simply accept the unpleasant fact that you are stuck with a bad boss. Instead of becoming annoyed whenever Jerry screws up, stop expecting him to be any better than he is. Lowering your expectations may help you feel less irritated.
Despite your low personal regard for Jerry, you still need to show respect for his position. Since you say that Jerry is aware of your feelings, you must have conveyed contempt during your interactions with him.
To send a more positive message, try to be consistently pleasant, cooperative and helpful. This may actually improve your performance rating.
Finally, to increase your own leverage, develop as many allies as possible. Having higher-level managers in your network can be especially useful. The more people who know and admire you, the safer your job will be.
Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of "Secrets to Winning at Office Politics." Send in questions at http://www.yourofficecoach.com, or follow her on Twitter @officecoach.
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