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The Coach: ‘My new boss is incompetent’

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Careers expert Matthew Turner advises an architect who feels hampered by a manager who is not up to the role

I am increasingly unhappy at work. My new boss is not up to the job and it makes me resentful that they prosper on the back of my efforts.

Matthew turner

For many, job satisfaction is not about the office location, projects, salary, or benefits; it’s their relationship with the boss. In my experience, people often don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses.

Many practices promote people because of their technical success as architects, rather than for their management skills. To compound the problem, many new managers receive little management training before they take up their new roles. This can make for an unhappy workplace. You are free, of course, to carry on looking for the perfect boss. Or you could consider working better with the boss you have.

Nobody wants to think of themselves as a ‘follower’. We confuse following with powerlessness, passivity and submissiveness; yet nothing could be further from the truth.

Learning to appreciate and adapt to people with different perspectives, priorities, and personalities is a key skill

Leadership nowadays is much more about influence than authority, so learning to appreciate and adapt to people with different perspectives, priorities, and personalities is a key skill. You could consider the following approaches.

Try de-escalating your anger if your incompetent boss frustrates you. Operating from a place of anger and resentment, our reptile brain takes over and clouds us from making smart, strategic choices. Replace anger with empathy, compassion, or even humour.

Put yourself in your boss’s shoes. How would you feel if you were elevated into a position you weren’t qualified for? How would you want your team to treat you? This perspective will enable you to make strategic choices.

Another plan could be to diagnose the incompetence. Does she lack experience? Does he have little emotional intelligence? Does he not hold people accountable? Is she really incompetent or does she just do things differently than you? If you can pinpoint the problems, you and your team can work out how to address the deficiency.

Once you’ve identified the issues, enact strategies to compensate, and even cover. Yes, it requires extra effort. No, it isn’t fair. But letting an incompetent boss derail your career isn’t fair, either.

Look for opportunities to shine by doing great work and becoming your boss’s biggest asset. Offer to cover for him when he is out. Compensate for your boss’s weakness. Proactively provide information that will help her. Offer to take on more responsibility and projects.

Take the long view. Try not to worry if your boss gets the credit. Make them and the team look good and you will look good. People aren’t stupid – everyone probably knows you are the success engine behind your incompetent boss. 

AJ coach Matthew Turner is an architect and careers consultant who runs the Building on Architecture consultancy. To contact him with your questions, tweet @TheAJcoach or email him in confidence at hello@buildingonarchitecture.com 

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