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

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

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.

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

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenHfURpkVQEthUHdAdner@ChacjLMydRHnFxJdlbIAoCanyon.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:

A droplet ploppingPlopping
When we offer a contribution to a discussion, and everyone ignores it and moves on, we sometimes feel that our contribution has "plopped." We feel devalued. Rarely is this interpretation correct. What is going on?
A view of the damage to the Apollo 13 Service ModuleThe Attributes of Political Opportunity: The Finer Points
Opportunities come along even in tough times. But in tough times like these, it's especially important to sniff out true opportunities and avoid high-risk adventures. Here are some of the finer points to assist you in your detective work.
Ross Marshall and Don Pugh at the kickoff meeting for the Expeditionary Combat Support System (ECSS) at Tinker Air Force BaseDeep Trouble and Getting Deeper
Here's a catalog of actions people take when the projects they're leading are in deep trouble, and they're pretty sure there's no way out.
Harry S. Truman (front, second from left) and Joseph Stalin (front, left) meeting at the Potsdam Conference on July 18, 1945Suppressing Dissent: II
Disagreeing with the majority in a meeting, or in some cases, merely disagreeing with the Leader, can lead to isolation and other personal difficulties. Here is Part II of a set of tactics used by Leaders who choose not to tolerate differences of opinion, emphasizing the meeting context.
An outstanding example of the Utility Pole anti-patternThe Utility Pole Anti-Pattern: I
Organizational processes can get so complicated that nobody actually knows how they work. If getting something done takes too long, the organization can't lead its markets, or even catch up to the leaders. Why does this happen?

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Five almondsComing October 25: Workplace Memes
Some patterns of workplace society reduce organizational effectiveness in ways that often escape our notice. Here are five examples. Available here and by RSS on October 25.
Terminal 3 of Beijing Capital International AirportAnd on November 1: Risk Creep: I
Risk creep is a term that describes the insidious and unrecognized increase in risk that occurs despite our every effort to mitigate risk or avoid it altogether. What are the dominant sources of risk creep? Available here and by RSS on November 1.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenkhDmYLKyOuxYqGwdner@ChacHBgBSVsuvgMxtFbKoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, 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

Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
Most Ten Project Management Fallaciesof what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

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.
Workplace Politics Awareness Month KitIn October, increase awareness of workplace politics, and learn how to convert destructive politics into creative politics. Order the Workplace Politics Awareness Month Kit during October at the special price of USD 29.95 and save USD 10.00! Includes a copy of my tips book 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics which is a value!! ! Check it out!

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.