The first time I encountered an incompetent boss was fairly early in my career. It didn’t take me long to discover that I had nothing to learn from him. Of course, the man had excellent credentials. He also had the experience. And to top it all he was visiting faculty at one of the respected business schools. So on the surface, it would have been very difficult to find fault with him, or to blame management for his recruitment. But as many who have had to deal with an incompetent boss, it is quite a frustrating experience. One has to keep pretending its Ok. It is dangerous to act smarter than your boss for fear of antagonising him. In my case, it didn’t take long for my assistant to realise that he was incompetent. In a few months, other departments had also taken notice. This was clear from the way how everyone approached me instead of him, even on important matters. But, I was never the aggressive kind, who would take advantage. So I continued to show utmost respect and to involve him in everything I did. I also tried to protect him from other people.
And just as I was wondering if I should be going to the CEO and asking if I could work with someone else, I got the first big break of my career. My CEO called me and asked me to make a presentation to the Chairman of a very large multi-national company, one of our most respected clients. This was unusual. If one expected my CEO to follow the rules, he should have ideally called my boss and asked him to make the presentation. But no, it was me. To make matters worse, my CEO asked me to report directly to him on the presentation. He wanted to be kept abreast on every aspect of it almost on a daily basis. The best part was that my boss didn’t resent this. Sometimes I wonder how things might have turned out if he had.
Finally the big day arrived. My presentation was a great success. My immediate boss was also there, and I could see he was proud of me. One of his redeeming features was that he never had any malice. My CEO was ecstatic. The client was very pleased. I couldn’t have had a better day. That was when I thought about, some of the advantages of not having a super competent boss.
- If your boss leaves something to be desired it means that more work might flow to you. This is good and bad. But I have often felt that the good overweighs the bad.
- You have the opportunity to shine a little more because the public gaze is now no longer on your boss who has been written off. As a result, it is likely that you will have more opportunities to show yourself and your competence for the next job.
- You will have more direct contact with your boss’s boss, because he will be sure to notice you. This is good from the point of view of future promotions.
- If your immediate boss doesn’t feel threatened that you are so good, then its fine. But I guess if feels threatened he would try to discredit you and this could be a big negative.
“I hate incompetence. I think it’s probably the only thing I do hate. But it didn’t make me want to rule people. Nor to teach them anything. It made me want to do my own work in my own way and let myself be torn to pieces if necessary.”
Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead
But there are downsides. First it always helps to have a mentor, and typically your boss is normally your best mentor. So if you have an incompetent boss, you need to find yourself another mentor. I found myself the head of another department. I watched him closely, admired him and kept quite close to him. In the process I learnt a lot.
I also found a client, whom I decided was a good mentor. He inspired me, challenged my thinking, and was very fond of me. Finding two people to admire and follow, did a lot for my career.
In the meantime of course the expected happened. My boss left within a year. I guess it was clear to him, that he was not making it in the company. I got promoted to his position. Something that might never have happened if I had a strong, competent boss.
So if you have an incompetent boss, be patient. Don’t fret. Maybe there is something that you can exploit from the situation that can benefit you in the long run. Maybe you will shine more than under a strong, competent boss. Maybe you will get promoted faster. Think of ways that you can take advantage of a disadvantageous situation.
There is always a positive in every negative!
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