My Boss is a Nightmare

In my previous posts, I have addressed a few items you should consider when you are the internal candidate and you come in second in the hiring effort.  In addition to assessing whether to stay or leave, you should also consider your actions and words as they will be under observation from all sides.  Today, I offer some ideas to a question I received from these postings; how to handle/react/work around the new boss who is a management disaster?

The question came from a reader who was the internal candidate, did not get the role, and the subsequent hire is a mess.  Not only is not getting the promotion a tough pill to swallow, knowing the new boss is a dumpster fire adds insult to injury.  Dumpster-FireHow could senior management not see this during the hiring process?  Now you are stuck with the boss.  Do you tell the boss’ boss what a mess this is?  Do you sabotage the new boss? What can you do?

Get Out:  The smartest move for you may be to get out and take a role at a new employer or within a different department at your current employer.  As I mentioned in my first entry on this topic, you need to ascertain if you can work with the new boss.  If not, get out as quickly as possible.  If you have to stay, then you need to consider the following:

Political Landscape: Before you mouth off about how bad your boss is to people at work, remember that the boss was hired by senior folks within your company.  By stating the person is a mess you are also saying the persons who selected your boss for the role were incompetent in their hiring.  Also, the boss may have connections you don’t know about within the company.  You may decide to unload your frustrations to an executive you think does not have any skin in the game only to find out your boss and the executive’s son were college roommates.  Complaining to individuals within the company usually does not help.

Find a Champion: If you do need to seek out the help of an executive to alert the higher ups to the boss’ incompetence, choose your ally carefully.  It should be an executive at a higher level than your current boss (i.e. not one of his colleagues) with whom you have a very good relationship.  This is important as the champion needs to be someone who would not assume you are complaining or bitter about the working relationship.  The champion will have the clout to do some digging and ask the right questions to the right people to verify if your concerns are warranted.

Stay Positive or Neutral: In your communications and actions, you need to remain neutral/positive (not glowing) about the work situation.  When speaking with the champion executive, choose positive phrasing.  Instead of saying you think your boss is worthless and should be fired, try phrasing such as, “I concerned about the performance of our division as well as our impression within the overall company.  Bob (the new boss) has had a steep learning curve and we don’t seem to be where I thought we would be as a department at this point.”

When speaking with others, try, “We are doing okay, transitions are always tough and it takes time to work out all the kinks.  I know I am looking forward to when we can function seamlessly again.”  The two phrases I shared communicate that all is not well but you are not throwing anyone under the bus.

Be Specific in Your Accusations: Sometimes the boss is a dumpster fire and needs to be gone.  When filing a complaint or when asking the champion to assert some influence in the situation, be specific in your examples.  Stating that you think the office is not performing as well as  it should or that you believe there is a morale issue among the staff does not cut it.  You have to have hard evidence of incompetence or malfeasance before initiating an accusation. This can be hard to prove.

Continue to Be a Superstar: After losing out on a promotion, you may not want to continue to try to impress, but you have to continue to perform at high level.  This way, the new boss will not have grounds to terminate you and if the boss is a mess and needs to be let go, senior management is more likely to come to you to step in and right the ship.  Why I do not encourage someone to cover for their incompetent boss, choose visible situations when you can step up and “save the day” when your boss slips up (again).  For example, a big presentation to a client goes poorly because of the boss’ lack of preparation – why not personally follow-up with the client to address any concerns in order to save the account.  The client will remember who saved the day.

It is important that, although your boss may be a disaster, his incompetence does not affect your reputation.  This means that you continue to network outside of your department in order to ensure your reputation stays intact. When senior leaders wake up to the disaster, you have to protect yourself from them doing a complete “housecleaning” of the department.  Having executive champions and others outside your department who can speak on your behalf may save you from a pink slip.  Even better, it may be the push needed to get you the promotion.

In reality, there is very little you can do when your boss is a dumpster fire other than continue to perform at a high level and protect ones reputation.  Avoid negativity as that will only haunt you in the end.  An incompetent executive will eventually be found out, either bide your time or get out.  If you do decide to stay, be sure to take steps to protect yourself as much as you can from the dumpster fire.


About Kevin Monahan

I have 10+ years experience in coaching clients in their career management and career change efforts. Personal career consulting services combined with employer outreach to help find opportunities for both constituents.
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