Use care with inept boss

Dear Joan:
I work for a company where hirings and promotions are made NOT on your ability or experience BUT on how many degrees you have or how you affect minority balances.

My boss of two years was hired because of the above criteria and is not a qualified manager. She lacks necessary decision- making skills, "misplaces" important documents and reports, lies to get herself out of trouble and most of all after two years, still has no idea of how to do her job. I carry her load, do her personal errands and still have to do all my regular work. She's so disorganized; she knows whatever mess she finds herself in, I'll be there to straighten it out.

If I try and speak to her about these problems, she will joke and agree with me, but she will do nothing to resolve the situation. She doesn't have to answer to anyone as long as the work gets done, usually after I do it. I'm afraid to complain too much, for she is the one who gives me my yearly evaluation, yet no one evaluates her. I resent working for someone so unqualified. I hope I can last three more years till I retire. Short of quitting or taking a demotion to a different department, is this a hopeless situation? I used to love my job.

Unfortunately, lousy managers are all too common and race or sex has nothing to do with it. It's futile to speculate on the reasons your manager was hired. What's important is how you can deal with your current situation for the next three years.

Because she is your boss, you are in a precarious position and will need to handle this carefully. In fact, you may decide that doing nothing is smarter in your situation. To help you decide, here are some thoughts to consider.

Some questions to ask yourself are: "Have I been taking a long-suffering parental role in this situation?" In other words, have you-like a parent- been cleaning up her messes too readily and then grumbling, "I can't understand why she is so irresponsible!" I realize that if you are her subordinate, you must do the tasks she assigns but are you jumping in to rescue her (BY DOING HER WORK) and then feeling like the victimized, unappreciated mom?

Rather than being so quick to rescue her, consider focusing on your own work and only step in when she asks you to. And then do only what she directs you to do. If you are her administrative assistant, you can do things such as offer to do all her filing (to have more control over those important documents she loses), or set up other organizational systems to assist her.

When she asks you to do personal errands, consider saying something like this, "I'm in the middle of X and I know I won't finish it in time if I stop now. Would you prefer that I stop doing this to go pick up your dry cleaning?" I suspect it will be very difficult for her to say, "Yes." After a few times, she may get the hint.

If you are a technical specialist, it will be easier to be "so busy" with your own work because your tasks aren't as closely connected with hers.

The fact that she is asking you to do personal errands and laughs off your attempts to discuss the problem suggest that you may be giving the impression that you are easy to take advantage of. If you are feeling victimized, that is probably the case. Perhaps you aren't comfortable asserting yourself with your boss and feel it isn't your place. I assure you that it is acceptable for you to express your opinions-as long as you do so tactfully and in an honest spirit of helpfulness.

If this were your peer, you could be much more direct. Since this is an issue concerning your boss's respect and credibility, it is very threatening and you must focus on how to help her without actually DOING her work. Your boss realizes how important you are to her and she is likely to listen to you. If she has other subordinates, examine their relationship to predict how she will react to your ideas. I doubt she will actually lower your evaluation because you express your opinion and offer suggestions that would help her control her own work.

You mention that she "lies to get herself out of trouble" and she doesn't have to "answer to anyone as long as the work gets done." It sounds as if she is accountable to someone for her performance. That person may be aware of the problems you are experiencing, especially if the person works closely with her. Chances are you have been employed there for some time and your record is solid. My hunch is that your position is more secure than hers is. It's time for your boss to be accountable for her own work. I'm not suggesting that you "set her up" to look bad; I mean it's time for you to distance yourself from her work as much as possible.

Another option to consider is to ask to be transferred. This may scare your boss into some new behavior, if she has come to rely on you too much. For your own mental health, a lateral move may be a good alternative. Try to avoid a demotion, if possible, but if it means ending your career on a happy note, it may be an appropriate solution.

Finally, if you weigh all the alternatives and decide to do nothing, consider focusing more energy outside of work to help neutralize the resentment you feel. Start planning your retirement by joining outside organizations and clubs. Plan vacations and get more involved with your family. Planning the future will take your focus off the present and keep you satisfied until the day you begin your new life.

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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