07/05/2012 02:55 pm ET | Updated Sep 04, 2012

What Do You Do When Your Boss is Incompetent?

How do you handle an incompetent boss? One of the readers of my blog, Corporette, asked the following:

Corporette is my top go to blog for advice on anything career-related. I haven't found much on dealing with an incompetent boss, though. Could you consider doing a post on how to handle a thoroughly incompetent boss? It's almost worse than incompetent -- she actually does some level of harm whenever she is involved in a meeting, on a project, etc. (As a bonus which you may or may not want to tackle -- she has 0 social intelligence, micromanages and is a chatty Kathy all wrapped into one.)

She sounds delightful! We have talked about how to handle a chatty boss, as well as how to handle a micromanager boss, but let's talk about the incompetent boss.

First: Figure out if there is a personality conflict between the two of you. For example, does she horde work she should have/could have given to you, and then get overwhelmed and ask you for help with it at the very last minute out of desperation? This may stem from her lack of trust in you. She may not want to delegate work to you because she doesn't trust you, so she takes on too much and has to ask you for help out of desperation at the very last minute... in which case you need to build up her trust so you can get the work done. A few more ideas:

Understand your boss's strengths and weaknesses. It's rare for someone to be promoted who has absolutely no skills -- she may be awesome at X and Y, but suck at Z. If you know this, it helps, both to reset your interactions with her (she's not a moron, she just sucks at Z) and to reset your expectations (of course this part of the project is going to be a bit bumpy, because she sucks at Z!). Meanwhile, you can lower your guard when dealing with her with X and Y. Conversely, it may not be that she sucks at Z at all, but she's crazed right now because she's having problems beyond you, such as with her boss, with another employee or in her personal life. Whatever it is, it helps to narrow your focus (either to Z or to "until this trouble passes").

Figure out what you need from your boss and communicate that to her in a way that she will understand. Do you need feedback? Better deadlines? More communication throughout the project? You can sit and moan all you like that she doesn't naturally give you that stuff, but you can also take a more proactive stance and GET the things you need from her. For example, if you need more feedback, make it a point of scheduling meetings to drag the feedback out of her when you need it. If you need more advance notice for projects, ask her at the beginning of the week what she has for you. I once had a boss who wasn't great at telling me what she thought were my job priorities -- I would spend weeks on a project to find out that she had thought something else was a higher priority. It wasn't that she was incompetent, but there was a disconnect between us. I wound up scheduling a monthly meeting with her to go over my tasks, and that helped us get on the right track.

Start a log. Sometimes, it helps to keep a written record for yourself of what things are going wrong. Write down dates, the actions you took, the actions she took and the result. Write down who else was involved... maybe even go so far as to print out a few emails and start a folder, so if your own work is ever called into question, you can easily defend yourself.

Have you had to deal with an incompetent boss? How did you manage?