In an ideal world, every manager would be all the things a great leader is supposed to be: motivating, inspiring, empathetic and overall, likeable.

But bad bosses are unfortunately a reality in the world of work, and if you find yourself working under one, you might not know how to handle them without wanting to quit your job.

An incompetent manager, or one who simply uninspiring, can quickly cause productivity and morale to drop. This 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?

Most of us have complained about our boss in one way or another, 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 to use when dealing with a less-than-perfect boss.

Understand why they’re a bad boss

In some organisations, people are simply promoted for the wrong reason. The fact is that they are not cut out for being in a management position and don’t have the skills to effectively lead a team.

For example, a functional leader may be very skilled technically, but not have the soft skills required to engage, inspire and motivate others. Over time, these people can become frustrated in their people-oriented leadership role, where they may disengage, and consequently, not be the kind of leader that you require to succeed.

In any case, attempting to get to the root cause of why your manager is incompetent can help you develop better ways of interacting them – and you may be less likely to take their actions towards you personally.

Question your personal bias

It’s also important to interrogate your own views and consider whether you could be judging your manager unfairly. What are you really seeing when you look at them? Keep in mind you may have a blind spot – are you jealous of their position in the business or do you typically resist authority? Do you think you can do a better job? Your assessment of them may be influenced by your own beliefs or feelings.

Try not to 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 pressure that your boss may be under?

Your boss could also 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 simply struggling to stay on top of things themselves.

Make the effort to learn more about your boss and have empathy – after all, they are human, just like you.

Reframe your interactions

You need to work together to get your job done and, hopefully, advance your career, so talk to your boss about your needs rather than telling them point-blank how you feel about them. 

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, or 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 mentor you or assist in this particular instance. 

Help your boss to be a good boss by linking you to the help you need to be successful.

Proceed with caution

It may be tempting to complain about your boss to colleagues or other leaders, 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 as a result.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t make a formal complaint if there’s good reason to do so. However, if you decide to escalate the situation, be sure to back up your complaint with facts and examples of how your boss is affecting morale and productivity.

Look for the silver lining

Don’t give up because of an uninspiring leader. Focus on your personal development goals. This could be your opportunity to step up. 

If your manager or boss is not the leader of your dreams, develop your own leadership skills to be the leader that the business needs. Do it for yourself, do it for your team and do it for the organisation.

Also try to focus on all the good things about your role, your team members and your organisation. By seeking out the good side, you may even end up with a more positive view of your boss. 

However, if the situation is really getting you down and impacting your mental health, it may be time to decide whether you should leave your job and find bigger and better opportunities elsewhere.

Considering changing jobs? Talk to a Michael Page recruitment specialist about employment opportunities in your field

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