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:
- Ten 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.
- About 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.
- What 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.
- The 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
- The 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.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming 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.
- And 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.
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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.