The business world is fantastic. It's also challenging. Over the course of your career, you'll face ethical, cultural, political, and personal dilemmas in the workplace. You'll work with difficult people. You'll find yourself in compromising situations. You'll have to balance who you are as an individual with what your employer asks of you.
Can you stay true to who you are without sacrificing your success? Absolutely YES.
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My Boss Is Incompetent

The "Bad Boss" Epidemic:
Part I of IV

When Your Boss Is Incompetent

Do a search for "Bad Manager" online.
How many results will you find?

I shouldn't be surprised by 569,000,000 results when I google "bad manager." But I am. Really? That many? I recently asked you all to share topics of interest. Hands down, the most frequently requested topic was "What do you do if you have a 'bad' boss?" 

This problem trumps nearly every other in the workplace. It's common, it's challenging, and it's hopeless for many. It's well beyond water cooler jokes and complaints. Leaders being perceived as bad bosses is a full-on epidemic, impacting the satisfaction and success of many in the workplace. It's been proven - over and over again - that your relationship with your boss impacts your job satisfaction more than any other factor. It also impacts your success.

The challenge with trying to solve this problem on a macro level is that "bad" is hard to define when it comes to bosses. What you think is bad, someone else might think is good, or at least tolerable. The bad boss challenge has to be solved at an individual level. You have to understand what makes your boss bad for you, and how to keep from reaching the end of your rope.
How do you make a bad boss... less bad?  
How do you keep from reaching the end of your rope when your boss fails you?  

What Makes Your Boss Bad?

When you tell others that you have a bad boss, they usually don't ask constructive questions to help you improve the situation. Why would they? It's much more fun to hear stories and anecdotes about bad behavior. Others can side with you, and confirm that indeed your boss really is bad. After the conversation, though, your boss is still bad. You may feel a little better. Or you may feel even worse after highlighting your boss's most hideous offenses. Either way, you haven't solved the problem.

One way to improve your situation is to walk away. You can find a new job in your current company or change companies altogether. Sometimes that's clearly your best option. But most of the time it isn't. Why should you change jobs just because your boss is challenging to you? He or she may move on soon enough anyway.

The better option, at least as a starting point, is to try and understand what about your boss really bothers you and what options you have to make the relationship better. If you have a "bad" boss, you likely struggle with one (or more) of these issues: 
Competence: Does your boss have the right knowledge and perspective to lead the team?  Does he or she have the right skills and competencies? Does your boss have good judgment and the ability to make sound decisions?
Likability:  Do you like your boss's personality; do you get along? Does your boss have an ego that gets in the way of your relationship? Is your boss respectful and sensitive to you and your colleagues?
Approach:  Does your boss's management style work well for you? Does he or she communicate with the transparency, frequency, relevance, and style that you prefer? Does your boss accept accountability, or blame, bully and sabotage others?
Integrity:  Is your boss honest and does he or she honor commitments? Is your boss fair in the treatment of employees? Does your boss discriminate? 
The good news is that you can improve your relationship with your boss even when he or she doesn't meet your expectations in these areas. You can make small, but powerful changes, all completely within your control to improve your relationship. There are no magic bullets, but even small improvements can make a big difference in your daily job satisfaction and your ability to be successful.

This article is the first in a series of four that addresses these key challenges you may face in working with a "bad" boss.  First up:  Incompetence.

My Boss Is Incompetent

It's hard to say which of the four challenges is worse when it comes to having a bad boss. Incompetence certainly makes life at work difficult. Your boss sets the course and tells you what to do. Incompetence can have serious consequences to your success. It's also incredibly annoying to see incompetence in someone you're supposed to respect and "follow." 

So what do you do? My recommendation is that you dig in and try to improve your boss's competency. Yes, you read that correctly. I'm suggesting that you assume some level of responsibility to make your boss more competent. The fact that you shouldn't have to is completely immaterial. This is about you improving a situation for yourself. This is for your benefit, not your manager's, although he or she will certainly benefit. 

Here are three common challenges with incompetence and actions you may want to consider to improve your situation.
a.  My boss lacks knowledge or perspective.
Notice I didn't say my boss lacks intelligence. Even if you think your boss is dumber than a bag of rocks, chances are you're wrong. Most people don't get into positions of leadership unless they're smart or accomplished in some aspect of the job. It may not be the area you care most about. It may not be an area that's visible to you on a daily basis. Your challenge is more likely that your boss lacks specific knowledge or perspective to be a good leader for you. It can make them seem dumb, but that's usually just a false positive in the world of bad boss results. Your boss is probably smarter than you think, which should give you hope.
What to do
Help your manager see that they'd benefit from increased knowledge. Then share what you know and have others do the same.
Sometimes your boss knows when he or she is lacking knowledge or perspective. Other times, that acknowledgement isn't there. In those situations, your job is to help your boss see the value in gaining additional knowledge or perspective. It's important not to focus on the fact that you believe it's lacking. Think of it as the benefit of "more" knowledge.
For your boss, interest in gaining knowledge only comes if he or she understands why it matters. What's in it for them to gain the knowledge? How will knowledge or perspective help them perform better or be perceived more favorably? Think about how to position more knowledge as a direct path to greater success.
In conversations with your boss, always start by discussing things that are similar to what your boss knows and understands today. Then highlight the new information you want them to understand - what's different or unique about a current situation. You'll establish comfort in the known, which will make your boss more receptive to the new information you want to share. 
Example: "I remember what you said earlier about <abc>. I just pulled together some information that's really interesting. It sheds some new light on how we could approach the situation. I'd like to share it with you. I think the executive team might find it interesting." Or "I know everyone has been talking about <abc>. I thought you'd want to be up-to-speed on the issue and the implications to our team. Can we spend a couple of minutes so I can share what I know?" 
In these examples, your boss is unlikely to walk away from new information because you've led them to believe that they can add value to an executive discussion or be at risk of being uninformed in front of their peers. Both are great drivers to get their attention. Hopefully, if the information you want them to know is truly relevant and important, both of those things are true.
Sometimes one eye-opening discussion will make your boss more receptive to new information, but this is usually an ongoing exercise that requires consistency. And patience. Every time you see information (or can generate information) that will help your boss gain new insight or perspective, share it. Invite your boss to meetings that will help him or her learn. 
Extra credit: The more you can make it seem like your boss's idea that you shared the information in the first place, the better. Example: "I know you mentioned you were interested in seeing improvements in <abc>. I saw this and thought you might like to read it." Your boss will always be more interested in anything you relate back to something that already matters to them.
b. My boss lacks skills.

When you work for someone who lacks specific skills or competencies, it's easy to become frustrated. It doesn't matter how much your boss knows, if he or she doesn't know what to do with the knowledge. You may feel that it's not your place to help your boss improve. In some cases, you can't help. You may not have expertise in the area that's lacking, or it may be inappropriate for you to help. In other cases, you absolutely can help and you should.  
What to do: 
One of the best ways to have a great relationship with your boss is to complement them in areas of weakness and help them grow stronger through their relationship with you. (Just as you would hope to see in return.) When you can help, do. In areas where your boss is weak, be strong. They'll get better over time through osmosis. Even slight improvements can be hugely beneficial to you and others.
Use your strengths to your boss's advantage and it benefits both of you. If your boss is a poor public speaker, offer to help pull together a presentation and provide talking points. If your boss doesn't say the right things in front of groups, walk him or her through what the audience needs to hear and offer suggestions for key points. If your boss doesn't know how to interpret information, deliver it with headlines and provide high level bullets to give them the answers.
Do whatever you can to mitigate weakness in your boss. If you can't help, find others who can. If your boss's skill or competency is truly inadequate in a material way, the company will eventually make a change. In the meantime, by helping to mitigate his or her weakness you won't suffer the negative consequences of inadequacy that always boomerang back to you. In all cases, offer assistance with the premise that you like doing something and want to help, not because your boss is lacking. After all, it isn't a lie. You do want to help. Yourself. If your boss isn't receptive to help, be subtle and assist in ways that are less obvious.
c. My boss lacks judgment and decision making abilities.

Sometimes even the most intelligent of leaders struggles with making judgment calls and being decisive, in matters big and small. The implications can be severe for the business and its employees. You end up stagnating in ambiguity while waiting on key decisions. Worse yet, you struggle from the impact of bad decisions.

What to do:

Always provide input and guidance to your boss. Provide your perspective and whatever information you can to encourage good decision-making in areas that matter. Focus on high-impact decisions rather than trying to impact small decisions simply on a matter of principle. This isn't about being right. This is about finding a way to be heard when it matters so you can influence positive outcomes.
If your boss makes decisions without consulting others, it's incredibly important that you be consistent in making sure your boss is aware of your opinions on important topics. Take every opportunity you can to highlight the implications of key issues and why your perspective matters, to you and to your boss. The best way to do this is informally whenever possible. Inform and influence, without preaching or pushing an agenda. That way, your boss will at least have some perspective if a spur-of-the-moment decision is made again.
You can also gently let your manager know that you'd like to have the option of sharing your perspective before decisions are made whenever possible. It's important to assure them that you're clear the decision is his or hers to make, and that you'd appreciate having the opportunity to share any insights you have. Some managers are open to this and some aren't. If you're sharing your opinions openly and constructively all along, though, you're ahead of the game even if your boss isn't receptive to this request.
If your boss operates at the opposite end of the spectrum and hesitates to make decisions for fear of making the wrong one, your best approach is to be supportive and moderately persistent. Example: "I know you really want to make a decision about <abc>. I'm not sure I've given you all the information you need. By waiting, I know we risk x, y, and z. Is there anything I can do to help you move the decision forward?"
Patience is key when your boss has this tendency. Rather than suffer in silence, just keep gently providing support to try and accelerate the process. Keep him or her attuned to the risk of not making a decision and communicate how you can help minimize any impacts if the wrong decision is made. Pushing will fail. Persistence and patience wins the day here. If you find yourself in a situation where a lack of decision is causing challenges to you, simply ask for their guidance. Example: "I know you're not quite ready to make a decision on <abc>. I need your guidance on how to handle <xyz> in the meantime. The challenge is..."
Sometimes the issue isn't making decisions too quickly or too slowly. Sometimes the issue comes down to judgment. You've provided information, you've bolstered areas of weakness and you've been supportive of your boss's decision-making process. The issue is that he or she isn't able to evaluate the information that's known, identify the risk of what's unknown, understand the consequences of the alternatives, and make good decisions. This, in my opinion, is the worst of incompetencies in a leader: lack of judgment. Two approaches can help you here.
First, present the full story to your boss when a key decision comes up. Your natural tendency will be to give your boss a recommendation. Instead, outline what you know, what you don't know, what your alternatives are, why each is viable or not, the implications of a decision one way or the other, and then your recommendation. That all sounds really hard, but it isn't once you think through how you came to your recommendation. You can share this formally or informally. Think of it as a training exercise every time you do it; you'll help improve your boss's judgment over time by providing information in a way that helps to inform their decision.
Second, reach out to establish a network of influencers. Talk with people your boss respects and get their input. Focus here on your peer group vs. your boss's peer group; they won't appreciate you engaging with their peers in this way. Note that this is not about manipulating others to try and force your boss's hand. If your boss isn't particularly comfortable making decisions, he or she will benefit from the insights and guidance of an informed and interested network. Sometimes influencers will agree with your position and other times they won't. In both cases, they'll provide valuable insights that will help you, and ultimately your boss, be informed and make better decisions. Share their perspective with your boss when it's relevant. 
Bottom Line

It's easy to get in the mindset that your boss is either good or bad and there's nothing you can do about it. The fact is, a label of "bad" is mostly a reflection of your alignment with your boss. What you perceive to be bad may be good, or at least tolerable, to others. Without question some behaviors are more "bad" than others. In nearly all cases, however, there are steps you can take to improve your working relationship with your boss. You can actually make a bad boss, less bad.

If you perceive your boss to be bad, you probably struggle in a few key areas including competence, likability, management approach, and perceived integrity. We'll explore the last three of those topics in the coming few weeks.

As for competency, if you change your approach in working with your boss, you can help him or her be more competent in the process. If knowledge or perspective is lacking, share yours openly and consistently, whether you're asked for it or not. Find a way to share information that's relevant and help your boss understand why it's relevant. It will take time and patience, but if you help your boss understand how more knowledge and perspective leads to better results, he or she will begin to seek it out.

If your boss lacks skills or competencies, find ways to bolster his or her weakness with your strengths or those of others. Assist where they're weak and provide support where they struggle. You become more valuable, and your boss grows in their skills over time. Even if your boss chooses not to improve, he or she will rely on you in areas of weakness, which in turn allows you to minimize negative consequences that would otherwise surface.

If your boss lacks judgment or decision-making capabilities, use personal influence to help him or her make better decisions. Share your perspective, use information to support your cause, and do what you can to accelerate or improve decision-making by helping the process along. Know your boss's motivations and fears when it comes to decision-making and help drive better results for the business. 

Bottom line: Take an active role in turning around a situation where you perceive that your boss lacks competence. If you remain a victim and don't work actively to improve the situation, you're the one who has to deal with the consequences. Take control by doing your part. If your boss isn't receptive to one approach, try another. You've heard about the need to "manage up" in an organization. Help your boss. Help yourself. Even if it's more work and you don't think you should have to. Do it anyway and reap the rewards. It's that simple.

Up Next:  Part II on Likability

The next topic in this series on bad bosses is Likability.

Here's a preview of that article:
Sometimes you just don't like another person. When it's your boss, you feel the impact every single day at work. That doesn't mean it's hopeless. Almost every relationship can be improved with a little bit of work. This is true even when we simply don't care for another person on a fundamental level. You can't write off your boss and ignore them.  We'll explore tips to help you try and turn it around in three key areas:
a.  My boss and I have a personality conflict.
b.  My boss is egotistical. 
c.  My boss is disrespectful or insensitive. 
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