What to do if your boss is incompetent

You are not alone if you find yourself working for a nincompoop. Turn your misfortune into a career boost.

What to do if your boss is incompetent

Don't lose your cool over an incompetent boss.

If it’s any consolation, you’re not alone if you’re asking how to deal with an incompetent boss. Thousands of unqualified bosses somehow manage to hold onto their jobs. There are even inept CEOs who couldn’t run a broom closet, let alone multimillion-dollar corporations.

How do you know if your boss is incompetent?

Don’t berate yourself for not spotting a bad boss before it was too late. Your boss probably didn’t have any opportunities to demonstrate incompetence while being on his best behavior. 

But now that you’ve settled into your job, the signs of incompetence can be likened to headlights on a pitch-black night. They’re unavoidable, and suddenly you realize your boss is a hopeless nincompoop.

Common clues include:  

  • Inability to make decisions: An incompetent boss often waffles over decisions that should be made instantly.  
     
  • Tendency to make bad choices: Ineffectual bosses often make poorly planned, miscalculated decisions. Miraculously, most incompetent bosses manage to save themselves at the 11th hour.  
     
  • Reliance on subordinates to get work done: Incompetent bosses may not have a clue how to get their own jobs done, yet they have the uncanny sense to rely on their teams to cover for them.  
     
  • Ability to keep the job despite failings: You’d be shocked how many inept bosses hold onto their jobs despite their failings. Many management consultants have yet to figure out why. Typically, they rely on their subordinates to manage up and get them through hard times in a toxic workplace.  

Take advantage

Your situation looks far worse than it is, but learning how to deal with an incompetent boss could be a career-enhancing experience. Incredible as it seems, your boss’s ineptitude could be a blessing.

For example, you have the chance to stand out by becoming an asset to your boss. The more you do and accomplish, the better it looks on your resume. It also scores points with management and potential employers.

Try these strategies for turning unfortunate circumstances into an advantage:

  • Cover in a crisis: If your boss is away on a business trip or vacation and an issue requiring instant decision-making arises, you have two choices: Either turn the problem over to a senior manager or make the decision yourself. Calling in senior managers makes your boss look bad. If you’re confident you can take over, you’d be wise to make the decision. Remember: Heroes are born in crisis situations.
     
  • Compensate for deficiencies: It’s to your advantage to discover your boss’s weak spots and help him in those areas. You want to be part of a winning team, and your boss is this team’s captain. You will get much further in a company if you associate yourself with successful projects. For example, an incompetent boss will struggle with complex ventures. Guide him through until everything is completed. You’ll look good by making your team look good—bosses love that.
     
  • Beware: Watch what you say about your boss. It’s very easy to complain and vent frustrations about your less-than-qualified boss to co-workers. Without realizing it, you could be talking to the boss’s good friend or someone who wants to score points with him. Keep your opinions to yourself.

​Look elsewhere for your career

Ideally, you shouldn't have to understand how to deal with an incompetent boss, but here you are. There's no sense in staying in a job with a boss who drives you up a wall. Ready to start looking elsewhere? Join Monster for free todayAs a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume—each tailored to the types of jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. Additionally, you can get job alerts sent directly to your inbox to cut down on time spent looking through ads.