Dealing with an Incompetent Boss

John Krautzel
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An incompetent boss can do more than make you dread going to the office; he can sabotage your career and impede your professional development. With the right coping strategies, you can excel at your job despite a bad boss and ensure that other company leaders recognize your contributions.

1. Fill in the Gaps

Chances are your incompetent boss has one or more glaring weaknesses, or he may be completely unsuited to his job. Instead of complaining or letting the team go down, identify your boss' skill gaps and find ways to fill them. In doing so, you ingratiate yourself with the boss and help the team succeed, which can only have a positive effect on your career. If other company leaders are aware of the boss's incompetence, your efforts don't go unnoticed for long. In a crisis, your quick action can save the company and earn you superstar status within the team or the organization.

2. Take Preemptive Action

An incompetent boss can thwart your efforts by micromanaging, focusing on tiny or irrelevant issues, and failing to make decisions. Mitigate the effects of these frustrating and counterproductive behaviors by identifying them in advance and taking preemptive action. If your boss tends to waffle about decisions under pressure, present him with specific choices well before the deadline. If he inflates the importance of irrelevant issues, anticipate and soothe his concerns before he can raise questions. Although this strategy requires more legwork on your part, it can reduce stress and irritation.

3. Work Independently

As the employee of an incompetent boss, you must become independent and self-sufficient. Learn to work without input or guidance, or seek advice from other superiors or colleagues. If your boss cannot provide effective leadership, take on the responsibility yourself or ask a senior team member to assume the role. Lean on your team members for support, and work together to put out great work despite your bad boss. Seek out your boss's input infrequently; if you are getting results, he may not argue. If he insists on providing misguided advice, listen carefully and take only the valid suggestions, but be prepared to refute bad suggestions with facts and figures.

4. Know When to Go

Finding ways to deal with an incompetent boss can only get you so far. You must also recognize when it's time to find a new job. The threshold is different for every professional but usually involves job satisfaction, promotion possibilities and professional reputations. If you are filled with dread at the thought of going to work, it's time to seek something new. If your boss refuses to promote you or claims your accomplishments as his own, you have no future at the company. Consider the effect of a useless boss on your reputation. If your boss's interference results in subpar work, clients may start to view you in a negative light. This reputation can spread quickly and ruin your future job prospects.

In most cases, it is worth your time to find ways to work around an incompetent boss. His failings may present an opportunity for you to shine. By employing targeted coping strategies, you can seize new responsibilities and help your team succeed.

Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at



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  • cheryl poole
    cheryl poole

    Yea Im in that situation as well. It's really sad when your in the business of helping others.

  • Leslie P.
    Leslie P.

    I believe any business emulates the supervision staff. It's the downfall of many a business and the ones most effected are the ground troops.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Blanche thanks for your comment. So sad that you had to live through something like that. Not all companies are like that and not all companies give upper level positions to their cronies and then push everyone else out. However, if you are working for that horrible boss and there's no getting around that by transferring to another division, you might have to consider your options and start searching for a new position. However, my experience has taught me that what goes around comes around. That new CEO won't survive if he/she comes in with an attitude like yours did - with the intent of cleaning house. That CEO will wind up on the unemployment line in short order. I have "waited out" the storm on more than one occasion - simply by keeping my head down and doing my job. I have seen managers come in and try to institute a multitude of changes right from day one only to get push-back from the employees. Most manager who do this don't last very long, either. So honestly - I think we control our own destiny - at least to a point.

  • Blanche Cordero
    Blanche Cordero

    At the end of the day, bad bosses still control your destiny. Sure they may privately regret getting rid of the people who may know what to do, but they tend not to admit it. Instead the new people have his/her back. Mediocrity breeds mediocrity. Typically the explanation is that new people have new ideas and are more adaptable. Reality is that ego is a big factor.

    I had the experience of working for a company that was acquired by a smaller competitor with a CEO who only relied on a very small group of people. A few even worked for our company. The worst offense is that not one question was asked. They came in and turned things upside down. Then end result *liquidation bankruptcy in 2 years. The heartache was watching it happen.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Maria thanks for your comments. Hopefully @Oscar R will see your great response. So true that, legally speaking, the only information a former boss or company can provide are the dates that you worked there. Are they really even allowed to indicate whether they would hire you again or not? I, too, have been in your shoes - watching a new manager come in and clean house. However, what usually happens is that they regret their bold brash move in a very short time. Those with knowledge are out the door and the manager is left holding the bag trying to hire new people all the while knowing that it will take months for them to be up to speed. You would think that they would learn from previous mistakes and/or others mistakes. I, too, have stayed with a company long enough to see those terrible "clean house" bosses walk out the door with their little box of belongings! Karma for sure!

  • Maria D.
    Maria D.

    @Oscar R. I'm sorry you are in this terrible situation at work, but your bosses are breaking the law if they are giving bad references! Legally they can only say, when you started, how long you've been there and would they hire you again. Look up "Employee's rights" If the reference’s communication was wrongful, inaccurate, and/or malicious, you may indeed have the ability – through an attorney – to pursue legal recourse. Good luck!

  • Maria D.
    Maria D.

    I've known many new bosses and when they come in they usually "Clean house" fire everyone and get all new crew, usually they keep the people they take a liking to. The real B do it gradually like they will fire one person and have another train the new person, etc.... I've seen so much crap and I have been in my position long enough to see themselves get fired. Hahahaha. Karma!

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Patricia so sorry about the job loss - and after 25 years! Did you at least get a severance package? As hard as it is to lose a job that you expected to be able to retire from, sometimes it's good, too. You can have a fresh start and can do something different, new and exciting. Take your skills out for a test in a different venue; a different career and see what happens. You may find that it really was time to leave your company and you may find some great joy and satisfaction in a completely new and different position. We wish you all the best.


    I Lost my job of 25 years due to an incompetent HR Manager.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Oscar sounds like you need to step up your job search a bit. Sounds like a very incompetent company to me. It's true that many jobs are dead end jobs but they are jobs nonetheless. Maybe it's up to you to show your bosses where they are lacking and help to pick up the slack. You might find that there is a better position for you within the company and all it takes is a bit of initiative on your part. Incompetence breeds incompetence.

  • Oscar R.
    Oscar R.

    Oh god this is happening to me I have an Associate degree , I have apply to many job opportunities and nothing coming back to me, were I work is a job end , there is no advanced at all and my boss both are incompetent. They are given bad reference about myself so I don't leave the company because they don't have enough employees.

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