How to work around incompetent managers

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Apr 21

There are a group of managers out there that simply do not understand their jobs or the business they are managing (employees too, but that’s a different blog post…). These are the managers that do not understand how to build teams, how their departments processes work, what are inputs and outputs to the department and do not get how what actions to take to affect department performance.

These people are not necessarily mean or political, they just don’t get how their area of management works.

People who work with these managers tear their hair out and try and figure out how to get the work done anyway. Here’s some suggestions for how to work around these incompetent managers.

Settle on what the manager does or does not understand

Managers are not usually incompetent in all areas of the department. So the first area to explore is determining what the manager knows and doesn’t know about the department. It could be that the manager could be very good in working with people, but doesn’t get the process of how the work flows through the department. Or the manager may understand the performance reports and how they are calculated, but does not know how to impact the numbers.

In other words, you can’t assign blanket incompetence to a manager on everything. Most people are good at something even if they are not good at the other 80% of their work. Knowing which good competency areas a manager has will help you bridge the gap in getting your own work done. You can rely on the manager to do this good thing, but you can’t rely on the manager to do this other thing.

Get help from the manager’s direct reports

Now, you may be a direct report of this manager. Or not. Either way, people on the manager’s team will get that the manager doesn’t understand everything about how things work. But they do. Whenever someone on a team is not capable of doing the work, the rest of the team invariably has to pick up the gaps (manager or coworker). In this case, the team needs to fill in how things work so they can succeed as a team.

If you have a project or task that requires you to work with the incompetent manager, collaborate more with the manager’s team once you understand where the manager doesn’t get it. It will fill in important gaps and give you a broader perspective of how the processes work.

Listen to stakeholders and customers

Rather than turning inward to an incompetent manager, seek to serve stakeholders and customers. They will tell you what they need for you to succeed in the job and will guide you on what else they would like you to do to make their situations better. You may not be able to deliver on all that they want due to budgets, office politics or whatever, but you will at least understand how these two key groups would like you to operate.

Then you can move towards their needs and keep customer satisfaction at the forefront of of your work.

Incompetent managers are a challenge

No doubt, incompetency can drive you crazy, especially if you are a Cubicle Warrior. But incompetent managers (and coworkers) are a fact of working life. Implementing methods to work around these managers is a necessary career skill.

How else have you worked around an incompetent manager?

  • Anonymous says:

    You haven’t told us how to get around this manager! This is how to work with the manager, but if the manager is actually creating a roadblock to something that must be done, how do you get around him without getting fired?

    • Scot Herrick says:

      Perhaps I should have been more explicit: you don’t get around the
      manager. There is no percentage in trying to because it will cause the
      manager to examine what you are doing, micromanage, or work to get you
      fired. So the best you can do is learn a way to work with the manager that
      limits damage and allows you to produce results.

      Good question!

  • >