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Stuck with an uninspiring leader?
Does just the thought of your boss make your energy level plunge? Are your team members unhappy, demotivated, feeling isolated or misunderstood?
An incompetent leader, or one who just isn’t inspiring, will cause productivity and morale to drop. This in turn can lead to mistakes, deadlines missed, a blaming culture and eventually a high staff turnover as people drop like flies in search of greener pastures.
What’s the best way to move forward, without becoming part of the problem? Is there anything you can do without it all blowing up on you and your career?
We all complain about our boss at some time, and while some people make a habit of it, a little complaining is quite different from frustration and stress – the same way an annoying manager is quite different from a totally uninspiring and incompetent manager or leader.
So what can you do that won’t jeopardise your job or cause irreparable damage? Here are some strategies that I discuss with my clients when they feel frustrated and stuck.
First let’s consider why your boss is uninspiring or incompetent.
In some organisations, people are promoted for the wrong reason. It depends on the practices and culture of the organisation.
What is quite common is that a functional leader who is very good technically, and thrives as a technical leader when hands-on in their level of competence and enjoyment, is promoted into a role that takes them out of their enjoyment and competence level and into a role that’s highly people management focused and requires a totally different skillset.
Technical leaders may not have the soft skills required to be people managers who are able to engage, inspire and motivate and thrive while doing so. Over time, they become frustrated in their people-oriented leadership role, they may disengage, and consequently, not be the kind of leader that you require to thrive.
Question your personal bias
What are you really seeing when you look at your boss? First, take a look at yourself as you may have a blind spot – are you jealous of his or her position in the business or do you always resist authority? Do you think you can do a better job? Your assessment of whether they are inspiring may be influenced by your own beliefs or feelings.
Have correct information at hand
Don’t judge until you have all the information you need to understand the situation. Perhaps your boss is experiencing stress in their personal life that you’re not aware of. Do you fully understand the stress or pressure that your boss may be under?
Your boss may be shielding you from the pressure that they are under and withdraw without realising it’s causing you to feel uninspired or that you don’t matter, when they are trying to stay on top of things themselves.
Make the effort to learn more about your boss and develop empathy – after all, they are human, just like you.
Reach out for help
Seek people to talk to outside of the organisation. This is not to moan about your boss – complaining will get you nowhere – but to find a trusted adviser, mentor or colleague and explain how you feel. Ask them for advice because a fresh perspective can make a huge difference in how you view your situation. They may have been through a similar situation and can offer you some real, practical advice, or at the very least, what you should avoid doing.
Make it about you, and reframe the interaction
As you need to work together to get your job done and, hopefully, advance your career, talk to your boss about your needs rather than telling them point-blank how you feel about them. Telling an uninspiring person that they are uninspiring is not helpful and achieves no purpose. Instead, focus on you.
Say, “I’d really like to do a great job and achieve my goals and the goals of the business, and I need your help to do that.” Then let them know what you need.
If you need input, information, assistance, guidance, ideas, any form of help at all, ask and be specific. If your boss doesn’t have ideas for you, suggest alternatives like someone else they could recommend to assist in this particular instance. Help your boss to be a good boss by linking you to the help you need to be successful.
Be your own leader
Don’t give up because of an uninspiring leader. Make your focus about how you can help to reach organisational goals. This could be your opportunity to step up. If your leader is not the leader of your dreams, develop your own leadership skills to be the leader the business needs. Do it for yourself, do it for your team and do it for the organisation.
Don’t rat them out
It may be tempting to go and complain to another leader in your business but be warned: hierarchy may be alive and kicking. Be aware of the political situation in your organisation as there may be other leaders who will resent you taking down their peer, and they also may be unwilling to help.
If you decide to make a formal complaint, do it with caution. And back it up with facts, and examples of how it affects morale and productivity.
Look after your mental health
Focus on all the good things about your role, your team members, your organisation and the redeeming factors of your boss. By positively seeking out the plus side of the situation you may have a clearer view of your boss.
You can go to work thinking about all the positives or you can choose to only focus on how uninspiring your boss is.
Also, turn the tables on yourself. Are you doing good work? Are you inspiring others to be the best they can be?
If the situation is really getting you down, and you feel you are getting nowhere, decide if you can make a transfer to another department or as a last resort, whether it’s time to move on and leave.
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