How to Deal With An Incompetent Boss (8 Tips For Employees)

incompetent boss

Have you found yourself working for someone you consider inept? You’re not alone.

Dealing with a bad boss is practically a working world rite of passage. While no manager is perfect, a genuinely incompetent one can make their employees’ lives a nightmare.

Luckily, there are some strategies to help you cope.

Signs Your Boss Is Incompetent

Before going any further, it’s vital to identify whether your boss really is incompetent.

Here are some telltale signs that the person in charge is not up to their leadership tasks.

  • Indecisiveness. Ineffective bosses are often incapable of making decisions, going back and forth on matters that need an immediate answer.
  • Bad decision making. When they do decide, incompetent bosses tend to make misjudged, poorly planned decisions. Yet somehow, they always seem to save themselves at the last minute.
  • Lack of direction. Unqualified bosses are generally unable to provide a strong focus for their team, either because they have trouble communicating their desires or don’t know how to lead.
  • Over-reliance on subordinates. Incompetent bosses commonly have no idea how to do their own jobs but are often acutely aware of how to tap into their employees to get things done.

Before deciding definitively that your boss is useless, try observing them for several days to gain a fair assessment. Note specific ways they fail to measure up: do they lack basic knowledge?

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Are their communication skills subpar? Are they genuinely incapable?

Analyze any poor decisions they make, and try to understand if things were really your boss’s fault.

How to Deal with an Incompetent Boss: 8 Strategies

Still reading? Then it’s time to learn how to deal with an incompetent boss.

Here are eight strategies to make your life at work more bearable.

1. Be Empathetic

It can be tempting to demonize an under-qualified boss. Instead, try to be as empathetic as possible and learn as much about this person as you can.

They may be experiencing a hardship that you don’t know about, or they may be under intense pressure from their own boss.

Having empathy for their situation may not change them, but it can help improve your outlook.

2. Focus on Your Work

One natural reaction when dealing with ineptitude is to let your work slide. But, as hard as it may be, try to keep your boss’ shortcomings from affecting the quality of your work.

Remember why you took the job in the first place, and keep these motivations at the forefront.

You want to stay on good terms with the rest of your coworkers and the other managers at your company, so focus on what you can control: your work.

Stay professional, and avoid passive-aggressive behavior like taking excessively long lunches or tardiness.

3. Be a Leader

Your boss’s inability to make decisions, coupled with a lack of direction, may leave you and your teammates without a clear plan of action.

Though frustrating, this situation may be a blessing in disguise, as it leaves room for other leaders to come forward–like you.

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So step up and fill in the gaps where you can. Not only will your coworkers be prone to follow you, but they’ll also likely be grateful to have someone to guide them.

And it might take some time, but upper management will probably notice your initiative, which may prove key in advancing your career.

Just take care not to undermine your boss, so keep them informed of decisions.

4. Develop Coping Strategies Based on Their Shortcomings

The right coping strategies are essential for dealing with a bad boss, and their shortcomings will dictate the strategy you develop.

Dealing with someone who doesn’t know how to handle pressure requires a different plan of attack than dealing with a boss who doesn’t listen.

So take some time to analyze their shortcomings, and respond accordingly. Once you know their deficiencies, you can decide whether to ignore them, work around them, or confront them directly.

For example, if you find that lateness sends your boss into a rage, always arrive a bit early.

5. Find Support in Your Colleagues

Keeping the stress of dealing with your boss bottled up can take a toll. Find support in your colleagues, who can help you blow off steam and perhaps provide invaluable advice.

After all, they’re probably dealing with something similar. They’ve likely developed their own strategies for making life with your incompetent boss more bearable.

6. Document Everything

Eventually, the imperfections of an incompetent boss may cause issues for the department or company.

Unfortunately, when the higher-ups come asking questions, your manager’s actions may very well cast aspersion on your work.

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For this reason, it’s a good idea to document all interactions with your boss in case you need to prove their incompetence. Flagging emails or even keeping a detailed log may prove essential to keeping your reputation intact.

Be sure to save anything that shows that their actions have kept you from doing your work–or worse, any evidence of them doing something against company policy or illegal.

7. Leave

Leaving is a last resort, but sometimes it’s the best course of action when things become unsustainable.

If you find yourself in a situation where your mental health or career goals are suffering from an incompetent boss, it might be time to consider your exit strategy.

You may want to look for a transfer to another department or considering leaving the company entirely.

8. Avoid Future Incompetent Bosses

Even if a potential manager seems fantastic during an interview, the reality of working with this person may be completely different.

While you can’t always be sure that your new boss will be a great match, there are ways to avoid similar scenarios.

When interviewing at a new company, do your due diligence before committing to a position.

You may want to have lunch or a coffee date with your potential coworkers to get a pulse on life at the company–and, most importantly, what your maybe-manager is like.

Just make sure to tread lightly; you don’t want to come off as overbearing.

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