How to Handle an Incompetent Manager
Image – Question mark in chalk
I have a manager who avoids making decisions, who doesn’t delegate and who’s always out of reach. I can rarely catch her in her office and she doesn’t respond to emails until it’s too late. Consequently, I’m waiting for direction and then I get blamed for not having accomplished my work. It’s affecting my reputation. I’m thinking of leaving, but it sounds bad to blame my manager at interviews. Do you have any strategies for handling her?
Too many managers are incompetent and have no idea how to manage, nor how to delegate.
To be fair, your manager may be experiencing the same problems from higher up the management ladder. But there’s no excuse for not discussing things with you.
That said, there are a couple of things you can do to get around her, as well as protect your reputation.
Find a mentor at the right level who can guide you to think like a manager
Do as much thinking by yourself, then check it with your mentor. The mentor can be a senior person within the organisation, or someone outside of it who has relevant experience.
Do a mind-map of all the relevant issues related to the situation. (It works best to do your thinking in writing.)
Think of all the possible courses of action and the possible consequences of each. Check any written company policies or procedures to ensure you don’t inadvertently contravene them.
Talk to others involved or who will be affected by the decision—they may think of something you’ve missed.
Write to your manager, once you’ve covered every angle. Say that you intend to act in this way for these reasons.
Say that, to save her time, you’ll take it as her approval and you’ll go ahead if you don’t hear from her by a certain time.
Assuming she’ll miss the deadline and not respond to you, you’re covered if you take action.
If it’s a problem you’re solving, write a simple report to your manager, outlining:
• what examples exist to show the magnitude of the problem
• when the problem began (as far back as you can trace it)
• what reasons you’ve identified for the existence of the problem
• how people are affected by it
• what costs are involved if we don’t fix it (or other consequences)
Costs and consequences could include potential loss of business, customer complaints, costs of repairs, or the cost of down-time if staff can’t continue with their work because a machine keeps breaking down, for example.
And, finally, your recommendation. Detail all the options available and which one you recommend as being the best and why.
Include an action plan if relevant, such as making room for the installation of something, or training required for staff.
By doing this, you’re doing all the thinking for your manager and making it easier for her to approve.
It’s important never to embarrass or alienate your manager. You just need to be sure you get proper advice and cover all your bases to protect yourself.
You may find that you’re ready for leadership yourself in your next career move!
To protect your professional reputation, you need to have written evidence that you’ve tried to arrange meetings with your manager for a particular issue or to discuss ways of working better together.
Collect significant examples of emails you’ve sent over time, containing questions to which you received no answers. Gather them in a separate folder so that the whole story is there if ever you’re challenged.
They might also be useful to show your approach in future interviews.
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