How to Deal with an Incompetent Manager

Last Updated Apr 22, 2010 7:05 AM EDT

Some bosses are out and out jerks with huge personality flaws that make them miserable to work for. Others are well-meaning but incompetent. If you're a relatively junior member of your team who can't afford to make waves or ask for a transfer, is there anything you can do to make working under a bungler bearable?
Sure, answers practical career advice blog Cube Rules. After all, some argue that like dogs and owners, there are no bad bosses, only bad employees. The Cube Rules post offers three tips on getting stuff done despite the failings of your boss:
  • Settle on what the manager does or does not understand -- Managers are not usually incompetent in all areas of the department. So the first area to explore is determining what the manager knows and doesn't know about the department. It could be that the manager could be very good in working with people, but doesn't get the process of how the work flows through the department... Knowing which good competency areas a manager has will help you bridge the gap in getting your own work done. You can rely on the manager to do this good thing, but you can't rely on the manager to do this other thing.
  • Get help from the manager's direct reports -- Now, you may be a direct report of this manager. Or not. Either way, people on the manager's team will get that the manager doesn't understand everything about how things work. But they do. Whenever someone on a team is not capable of doing the work, the rest of the team invariably has to pick up the gaps.... If you have a project or task that requires you to work with the incompetent manager, collaborate more with the manager's team once you understand where the manager doesn't get it.
  • Listen to stakeholders and customers -- Rather than turning inward to an incompetent manager, seek to serve stakeholders and customers. They will tell you what they need for you to succeed in the job and will guide you on what else they would like you to do to make their situations better. You may not be able to deliver on all that they want due to budgets, office politics or whatever, but you will at least understand how these two key groups would like you to operate. Then you can move towards their needs and keep customer satisfaction at the forefront of of your work.
(Homer Simpson incompetence image by pochacco20, CC 2.0)
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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.