Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 6, Issue 38;   September 20, 2006: When You Think Your Boss Is Incompetent

When You Think Your Boss Is Incompetent

by

Last updated: August 8, 2018

After the boss commits even a few enormous blunders, some of us conclude that he or she is just incompetent. We begin to worry whether our careers are safe, whether the company is safe, or whether to start looking for another job. Beyond worrying, what else can we do?

Let's say, hypothetically, that your latest project has just crashed in flames because your boss forgot to sign off on the extension for the 15 contractors who were staffing it, and they got reassigned. You can get them back in three weeks, but you'll never meet the deadline now. You've just about had it, and you've decided that your boss is totally incompetent.

Seafood stew

Seafood stew. Photo courtesy U.S. National Diabetes Education Program of the US National Institues of Health.

Maybe. Maybe not.

All you really know is that your boss's performance has been pretty dismal. Incompetence is just one possible explanation. For instance, your boss might be distracted by problems at home — a sick parent or child, a death, a troubled marriage, substance abuse, or identity theft, to name just a few possibilities.

As subordinates, we rarely have enough data to support any diagnosis of the causes of our bosses' poor performance. Without such data, attributing the cause of the problem to someone's character or lack of talent could be an example of a common mistake called the Fundamental Attribution Error.

A more constructive approach focuses on dealing with the consequences of your boss's performance. Here are some insights and steps you can take that might make your life better despite the situation.

Worry is not a strategy
Some very popular but ineffective tactics include stewing about the situation, griping with co-workers, or carrying the problem home to those you love.
While these choices provide emotional support, they aren't likely to solve the problem. Search for something that can lead to a positive outcome.
Recognize that your organization tolerates substandard performance
Probably you've encountered substandard performance elsewhere in the organization, but it didn't bother you because you were less directly affected.
Since you'll probably bump into substandard performance again, transferring to some other part of the organization is a questionable strategy.
Fish or cut bait
As subordinates, we rarely
have enough data to support
any diagnosis of the causes of
our bosses' poor performance
If you're considering a move, make a decision. Move or don't move, but make a decision.
Sometimes decisions are difficult. Figure out how much time you need. Delaying beyond that is probably a symptom of avoidance rather than evidence of difficulty.
Embrace your choice
If you decide to leave, make leaving a priority. Conduct a disciplined job search, the way you would if you lost your job.
If you decide to stay, commit to staying. Formulate strategies and tactics for safeguarding your career and maintaining your happiness despite your boss's performance.
Plan for Reality
When you estimate effort and duration for task assignments, allow for your boss's performance. Scale back expectations of the capability you can deliver.
You can avoid frustration by anticipating trouble. To some this will feel like giving up, but it's just accepting Reality. Manage the risk.

Your boss's poor performance is your boss's problem. What it does to you is your problem. You'll probably do better if you work your own problem. Go to top Top  Next issue: Assumptions and the Johari Window: I  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

For more on distinguishing which issues are yours and which issues belong to others, see "Stay in Your Own Hula Hoop," Point Lookout for June 27, 2001.

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenKPYoMQDfmTQcWdEiner@ChacgPZAgxBCkEPUsVGWoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

An aircraft armament technician pushes a 500-pound toolbox to an A-10 at Whiteman Air Force BaseTen Tactics for Tough Times: II
When you find yourself in a tough spot politically, what can you do? Most of us obsess about the situation for a while, and then if we still have time to act, we do what seems best. Here's Part II of a set of approaches that can organize your thinking and shorten the obsessing.
Bush and Putin hugAbout Workplace Hugs
In the past twenty years in the United States, we've changed from a relatively hug-free workplace culture to one that, in some quarters, seems to be experiencing a hugging tsunami. Knowing how to deal with hugging is now a valuable skill.
President Barack Obama with Stevie WonderWhat You See Isn't Always What You Get
We all engage in interpreting the behavior of others, usually without thinking much about it. Whenever you notice yourself having a strong reaction to someone's behavior, consider the possibility that your interpretation has outrun what you actually know.
An F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter test aircraft AA-1 undergoes flight testing over Fort Worth, TexasThe Deck Chairs of the Titanic: Task Duration
Much of what we call work is as futile and irrelevant as rearranging the deck chairs of the Titanic. We continue our exploration of futile and irrelevant work, this time emphasizing behaviors that extend task duration.
An egg sandwichThe Power and Hazards of Anecdotes: I
Anecdotes are short stories — sometimes just a single sentence. They're powerful tools of persuasion, but they can also be dangerous, to both anecdote tellers and anecdote listeners.

See also Workplace Politics and Managing Your Boss for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Thomas Paine, considered one of the Founding Fathers of the United StatesComing December 12: Effects of Shared Information Bias: II
Shared information bias is widely believed to lead to bad decisions. But over time, it can erode a group's ability to assess reality accurately. That can lead to a widening gap between reality and the group's perceptions of reality. Available here and by RSS on December 12.
Feeling shameAnd on December 19: Embarrassment, Shame, and Guilt at Work: Creation
Three feelings are often confused with each other: embarrassment, shame, and guilt. To understand how to cope with these feelings, begin by understanding what different kinds of situations we use when we create these feelings. Available here and by RSS on December 19.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenbAirzyjJajUQNcxtner@ChacvAfbrfBJiRGPsBgYoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!

Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.