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How To Work With Bosses Who Are Idiots

December 29th, 2014

How’s that for a catchy title? This is the perfect topic for this time of year, when people are evaluating their careers.

Recently I was asked for advice regarding bosses… here is a rewritten question which sums up the questions I’ve gotten:

How do I deal with managers who knows nothing about technology but who insists they are always right, no matter what say or do, even when you can see them running down the wrong road?  Usually they have no subject matter expertise, and many times can make my life very difficult.

I got this question from someone who is in a highly technical role… which means this person has deep subject matter expertise. I’ll try and answer in a way that makes sense to most people/jobs/roles.

Here’s my initial gut reaction: LEAVE.  Don’t deal with the manager.  The manager likely has a number of problems, including any degree of these:

  • They are unqualified for the job they got.  The problem IS NOT that they are technically inept (on the flip side of the coin, having them be technically adept doesn’t mean they will be a better boss).  The problem might be that they don’t know how to manage someone with deeper technical skills.  They may be in over their heads with things such as empowering their team, how to manage in different managing styles (hands off vs. micromanagement), etc.   They might simply be too immature in their career to have this job… which implies that perhaps they’ll grow into it, but do you have to suffer through their growth?
  • The manager is a narcissist. Let’s cut to the chase… perhaps I’m off-base here, but this last year I’ve been swimming in a pool with too many narcissists(one is too many for me).  I’ve learned that this is more than just a mean name you can call your boss… there are a lot of people out there with narcissistic behavior.  The problems and symptoms run a lot deeper than what a training or reprimand can do for them.  If you want to feel depressed for a few hours, read up on narcissism – there are plenty of articles that talk about what it is and how to be around (work with, be married to, etc.) narcissists.

We could go on and list a dozen other problems, but let’s generalize and assume that your boss’s problem falls under one of these two issues.  So where does that leave you?

If you are in a professional job, on a career path, my first bit of advice would be to work on LEAVING.  Look for a new job. If you have expertise, if you aren’t appreciated, if the work conditions are not fun (or worse: they are  hostile), there is no reason to subject yourself to daily torture.  Working in a pleasant, fun, appreciative work environment is night-and-day compared to working at a job that you dread going to.  If your boss isn’t going to change, it’s only a matter of time before you settle into the rut of work depression.  Why subject yourself to that path?

Caveat: if you are in a low-level job, enjoy the ride.  One of my first jobs was at Taco Bell.  It seemed like everyone was crazy there… even (especially?) the managers.  Me, my brother, and this other guy I think named Ron, had a super fun time.  We didn’t let the craziness bother us because this was just a gig to earn some gas money… it wasn’t a career.  If you are in a place like that, don’t worry about it too much… have fun!  If you can’t, then, LEAVE.

If you are in a career, though, here are options:

LEAVE. I’ve already said that. It’s extreme.  It might save your sanity.

Be Prepared.  The old Boy Scout motto is splendid.  Let’s say that you are unprepared to get laid off today.  If so, you are probably afraid of getting laid off, losing the paycheck, etc.  Where would you go??  However, let’s say you are prepared… and you get laid off.  You might be thankful that you got laid off!  Sure, you lost your job, but you are prepared (strong network, established brand, etc.).  If you want to change how you feel about being in a crummy situation, work on career management, which can give you a glimmer of hope, and help you feel less trapped.

Hang in there, maybe.  Assess the situation… how temporary/permanent is it?  Is The Idiot (or the immature manager) the son of the owner?  If so, it’s likely things won’t change anytime soon.  If The Idiot might have a short lifespan at the company, will things change once he is gone?  If not, then prepare to leave…

I guess you could try and help… but I’m assuming that it’s going to be too much work, and you might not get anywhere (except fired or laid off).  You could talk to a their boss, but that gets weird (especially if their boss has loyalty towards them, or wants them to move up the ladder).  If you have a big heart, go for it, but just watch out for your own mental and emotional health.

Okay, that’s all I got.  What do you think?

4 Comments »

4 responses to “How To Work With Bosses Who Are Idiots”

  1. Anthony Esdaile says:

    Many thanks for a great response. I felt you were right there with me looking over my shoulder as you hit the nail right on the head, trying to empower a team is difficult but don’t alienate those around you

    Or you will lose them

  2. Jason Alba says:

    You are welcome Anthony. Posts like this are kind of hard for me to write because I don’t want to burn bridges (even though my last real job was 9 years ago), and I don’t want anyone who comments on them to burn bridges.

    However, this stuff is real, and it impacts people’s lives… and I think it’s healthy conversation to have, instead of ignoring it. Thank you :)

  3. Jeff Rock says:

    Jason,
    You are totally on point. I see this all the time. People are afraid to leave but they are in a living hell. In the past several years, the job opportunities were quite limited. That is changing and 2015 is looking to be a big year for hiring. I’ve worked with people who are working for narcissists. Narcissists are legion and they have no interest in changing. Time to move on.

    Thanks for this and so many pieces of wisdom you share.

    -Jeff

  4. Jason Alba says:

    Jeff, many thanks for your comments and thoughts over the years :)