Patience needed for changes

Dear Joan:
What do you do when you are a new employee and the person who is working alongside of you and who is your office manager is ineffective? I am new and this office manager has been around awhile. I don't have the power to reprimand her alone. What should I do?

You don't have the power to reprimand her at all. That is a job for the office manager's boss. In fact, if you point out her inadequacies to anyone, you will be perceived as a new kid on the block who is too big for her britches.

The only way you will be able to work through this situation is over time. Give yourself a time frame in which to work, say, one year. A year will be enough time to get to know the entire situation and if you should decide to leave, a year is a respectable period of time to stay at one employer. During this period of time execute an action plan in stages so that you won't be tempted to jump the gun and do something that will put you in a bad light. If you have a secret plan, you will feel as if you are doing something about the situation rather than feeling resentful and angry.

During the first six months, concentrate on collecting data to test your hypothesis that she is, indeed, incompetent. I say hypothesis because she may surprise you as you learn more about the operation. She may actually be more savvy than you give her credit for now. Often, a newcomer sees all of the warts and none of the beauty marks. People within an organization develop behaviors that are a way of coping with the cultures in which they live. Usually, they are reacting to their environments in a way that has helped them to survive. Study her behavior and her boss's as well.

Her boss will be a rich source of information for you and should be a focal point of your study. If he or she is the type who demands results and you begin to sense that your office manager's performance is not favored, you are in a better position than you realize. Perhaps you were even brought in to eventually replace her. One of the reasons some talented employees chose to stay and work for an ineffective manager is that they smell opportunity. If you believe that your manager's boss is effective, you might be smart to outperform your manager and make sure it's visible enough to be recognized by her boss.

If your office manager's boss is weak and tolerates your boss's poor performance, you will have valuable information that may influence your decision to stay or leave.

As you study your surroundings, listen closely to what others say about your managers and your department. No matter how tempting, resist the urge to attack your boss to others, even if they are critical of her. This is going to be tough to do, given your current feelings about her, but it will pay off later. One thing many people forget is that a nasty remark about someone has a funny way of leaking out to the wrong people. As a newcomer, you won't know whom you can trust and it could be fatal if you spilled your feelings to the wrong person. Badmouthing your boss is the kiss of death on the job and poison for a job reference.

After a few months, begin to suggest new ways of doing things. Perhaps you could relate your suggestion to a previous work experience you had in another company. This will seem less threatening. Watch your boss's reaction and adjust your approach. If you can win her trust and confidence, you will be given more free rein.

You will have to manage your own reaction to your boss. If you have little respect for her, that could be very obvious to those around you. Even an incompetent boss deserves to be treated with some degree of respect by his or her subordinates. Until upper management takes some action, he or she is still your boss. If you find that you are beginning to become openly insubordinate, you would be smart to leave before you are fired. Although it may not seem fair, organizations live by certain rules of protocol and this is one of them.

During this year, look for every opportunity to add responsibilities to your job. Not only will this position you for a promotion, it will give you more to put on your resume if you should decide to leave. As long as you are learning things, it may make sense to stay.

If you can show the strength of character to survive an incompetent boss and focus your attention on your own performance instead of hers, you may be rewarded with more responsibilities. Rather than looking at this as picking up her slack, consider that it may be her boss's way of positioning you for a bigger job. If, at the end of the year, you see no move in this direction, give it up and begin to look for another job.

If you begin to interview, say nothing about your boss. Rather, say your reason for leaving is that you are looking for a company in which accomplishments and initiative are rewarded. They'll get the picture.

Above all, look at this as a learning experience. You can learn just as much from a lousy boss as you can from a great one. Rather than simply criticizing her actions, take a moment and think about how it could have been done differently. The best leaders learn from every manager they have ever had. Sometimes the worst bosses teach us the most indelible lessons.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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