8 Sanity-Saving Ways to Deal with Your Incompetent Boss

No boss is perfect, and everyone gripes about theirs at one point or another. Still, there’s a huge difference between a difficult manager and one who is functionally inept to do their job well. Working under the latter can be stressful and frustrating all the time—nevertheless, there are ways for you to not only survive but thrive in your less-than-desirable predicament.

First things first, before taking any steps further, you have to be SURE that your boss is indeed incompetent from an objective point of view. If you’re the only one among your colleagues who think that way, perhaps you're just being too hard on him. Here are some critical signs of incompetence that you must confirm through observation.

•Lacks sound decision-making skills

•Makes bad choices often

•Relies on subordinates too much

•Rejects ideas and suggestions without consideration

•Has no direction for the team

For a week, try to observe how your boss goes about work and weigh the things that were done well versus poorly. When he or she makes a bad decision, ask yourself—were the errors truly your boss’s fault, or were they beyond his control in the first place?

If you can honestly say to yourself that your boss is genuinely incompetent at his job, here are eight tactics to help you make the most of your situation.

Understand the reason behind the incompetence

Learn as much as you can about your boss’s motivation and try to develop empathy for him. He may be having a very stressful life situation that you aren’t aware of. Avoid dehumanizing your boss, even if he is indeed ill-fitted for the job.

Step up to the plate

Let your leadership skills shine. If you know your co-workers and the workflow well, you can politely take on the reins and help your department achieve the desired results. People tend to follow the lead of someone who knows what they’re doing. Just make sure you don’t undermine your boss, and let him know that you’re just trying to help out. Step up to the plate without harboring any ill feelings towards your boss. Do it because your team needs you.

Keep in mind also, that the more you accomplish, the better you’ll look in the eyes of the higher-ups. Your inefficient boss could actually be a blessing to your career, and you need to seize the situation and use it to your advantage.

Be a mentor

Hopefully, your boss will be aware of his inadequacies and be willing to learn from his subordinates. Treat each conversation with your boss as an opportunity to teach him about your work. Though it may seem like you’re the one training your boss, this can actually be a good way to establish rapport and promote a pleasant working environment. And the time you invest educating him can pay off once he gets a good handle on his roles and responsibilities.

Stay focused on your work

Don’t let the shortcomings of your boss affect your work. Remember what you’ve been hired to do, and stay on good terms with colleagues and other bosses in your company. Avoid retaliating negatively, such as incurring frequent absences or tardiness, submitting an incomplete task, or even lashing out. All of these will only be detrimental not only to your productivity, but also to your reputation. You don’t want to have your boss turn the tables on you and label you as the incompetent one.

Ask your colleagues for help

Frustrations can be dangerous if you keep them to yourself. Look to your peers for advice and talk to them about the things about your boss that bothers you. It’s crucial that you not only find an outlet for your negative thoughts and feelings, but also seek solutions for them. Your colleagues are the best resource for that because they are likely going through the same issues you are. Who knows—one of your co-workers may already have a working solution that could be beneficial to the rest of the workplace.

Of course, you better watch out that you don’t end up merely badmouthing your boss—your words could come back and haunt you. Keep your emotions in check, and make sure you vent in a positive and constructive manner.

Make a record of your interactions

If your boss’s incompetence is starting to take its toll on your department and the company, time may come when people will look for someone to blame. At this point, you may have to prove your manager’s incompetence, especially when the quality of your work comes into question. Before that happens, document all interactions in a log or, if possible, with video. Bookmark any email or correspondence that show proof of your boss’s actions keeping you from completing a task or project. You never know when such documents will come in handy in the future.

Take care of your health

An incompetent boss can be bad for your wellbeing, so make sure you set boundaries to protect yourself from mental and emotional harm. “Good fences make good neighbors,” as Robert Frost once said, and so you must learn how to buffer yourself from the negativity. Avoid falling into the victim mentality, because that’s when you cease to be an effective thinker and solutions can get harder to come by. Remember: you are the one in control of your life, and you can choose to overcome challenges or let them overwhelm you.


Sometimes, the best way to win a war is to retreat and re-strategize. If dealing with your boss has become a futile fight, it may be time for you to bow out and take your leave.Consider looking for a transfer to another department or another employer.

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