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.
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.
Is 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.
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Dealing with Org Chart Age Inversions
- What happens when you learn that your new boss is younger than you are? Or when the first two applicants
you interview for a position reporting to you are ten years older than you are? Do you have a noticeable
reaction to org chart age inversions?
- When Power Attends the Meeting
- When the boss or supervisor of the chair of a regular meeting "sits in," disruption almost
inevitably results, and it's usually invisible to the visitor. Here are some of the risks of sitting
in on the meetings of your subordinates.
- More Stuff and Nonsense
- Some of what we believe is true about work comes not from the culture at work, but from the larger culture.
These beliefs are much more difficult to root out, but sometimes just a little consideration does help.
Here are some examples.
- My Boss Gabs Too Much
- Your boss has popped into your office for another morning gab session. Normally, it's irritating, but
today you have a tight deadline, so you're royally ticked. What can you do?
- When You're the Least of the Best: I
- The path to the pinnacle of many professions leads through an initiate or intern stage in which the
new professional plays a role designed to facilitate learning, especially from those more experienced.
For some, this role is frustrating and difficult. Comfort in the role makes learning its lessons easier.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming May 1: Full Disclosure
- The term "full disclosure" is now a fairly common phrase, especially in news interviews and in film and fiction thrillers involving government employees or attorneys. It also has relevance in the knowledge workplace, and nuances associated with it can affect your credibility. Available here and by RSS on May 1.
- And on May 8: Brain Clutter
- The capacity of the human mind is astonishing. Our ability to accomplish great things while simultaneously fretting about mountains of trivia is perhaps among the best evidence of that capacity. Just magine what we could accomplish if we could control the fretting… Available here and by RSS on May 8.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people 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.
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.