Do you have to work with an incompetent boss? Not just an annoying boss, but someone whose lack of skills and leadership is actually affecting productivity? Maybe he gives confusing directions. Or his actions actually destroy company culture: feeding gossip, pitting people against each other, stifling creativity and encouraging dishonesty.
Company productivity and performance depend largely on the quality of the leadership—even the bravest of soldiers will lose the war, if the general can’t organize the troops. But since you can’t change management, what you can do is to protect yourself, so you don’t end up being caught in the crossfire.
Many incompetent bosses give such conflicting directions or create such impossible work environments that you’ll soon start wondering if you are doing anything right. You may doubt your skills, or grow frustrated. You may even wonder if it’s your fault.
Zen Buddhists have a saying: ‘It is not bad, it is not good, it is just what it is.’ In other words, you can’t control what your boss does, and it’s a waste of time to doubt yourself or what you could’ve done in other circumstances. It is equally pointless to rant and rave over things you can’t change.
Take a step back and describe the situation as it is, without emotional judgment. Instead of, ‘Nobody listens to anyone! They’re all a bunch of idiots.’ Say, ‘There is miscommunication.’ Immediately you let go of resentment, anger, and the victim complex—especially when you realize that miscommunication can happen anywhere, between any two people.
When you see the problem in terms of situations and not people, then you regain some power over the situation. You can’t change your boss, but you can address a specific issue, one issue at a time. ‘There is miscommunication…where? The Jones account. What type of miscommunication? We are running late on a deadline because some instructions were not cascaded to the staff.’ Then, you can find a solution. ‘What can I do, and what do I need from my boss in order to do it? And if he can’t do it, who can help me then? What other company resource can I tap?’
And, as the adage goes, cover your….back. Submit reports. Summarize your actions and accomplishments. Notify departments immediately of a problem, plus the steps you are taking, so that if something goes wrong they can never say that you didn’t inform your superiors or take a proactive stance. Include, too, the limitations you are working with: ‘Ideally, we would do Plan A, but since the budget was slashed by half, we can only do Plan B. Given, this, the best we can hope to achieve is…’
It’s important, too, to cultivate a healthy work life balance in order to avoid burnout. Don’t bring the stress from the office home. What you do at work is just…work. And your identity and sense of value is bigger than that. You are not just a worker, you are a friend, a family member, an individual with interests and a personality that can’t possibly be summarized by the title in your calling card or the numbers in your performance appraisal.
In a difficult work environment, when you know and feel that you can gain very little personal fulfillment or satisfaction from what you do, it is even more important to cultivate your ‘after-office’ persona. In fact, an incompetent boss may be the best thing that’s happened to you, if he helps you realize that work is really not everything—and his opinion of you (or others’ opinion of you) doesn’t really affect you anymore, because your sense of self-worth goes far deeper than that.
As we said before, work ‘is what it is.’ And more than that, ‘it is not me.’
Photo from resumark.com