Friday, 25 September 2015

Incompetent Boss Decoded

After a gap of almost 5 years, I recently got in touch with a former colleague, thanks to social media. We recalled our time working together and chatted about how our respective careers and families had kept us busy. After a tĂȘte-a-tĂȘte about life in general, we ended up talking about our work life. It’s inevitable not to; we spend half our lives at work. A mere hint at a boss and employee's volatile relationship probably hit a raw nerve; she exploded with antagonism. I let her vent her feelings out, then asked her what exactly frustrated her so much. She replied, 'He is so incompetent; just can’t do his job right….' The next interrogative uttered thoughtlessly in an attempt to hold the conversation, which I regretted almost immediately, set her off again.
She was overworked, sandwiched between deadlines; and above all, micromanaged. ‘Is your company expanding? Maybe everyone’s overworked,’ I tried to appease her. 'No', she retorted, ‘he simply doesn't know how to do stuff.’
Most of us would identify with her. Every once in a while we come across supervisors who seem incompetent. Although ‘incompetence’ is a very harsh word, we hurl it at anyone who seems to fail at their job. I would rather say unskilled. Incompetence is relative; Skills are integral. Where technical and transferable skills can be honed further, personal skills are mostly inherent.
Having an unskilled boss isn't exactly a bad thing unless of course they suffer from the Dunning-Kruger effect. Let’s examine the three categories of unskilled bosses, and what can be done about it.
Technical Skills
Take the IT sector as an example. The information age has advanced by leaps and bounds in the last two decades. Most employees who began as individual contributors some fifteen years ago are now in middle and high ranking positions. The technology they last worked on is either dead or has undergone an unrecognisable facelift. Besides, once the roles change from technical to managerial, it is hard to keep abreast with the ongoing market currencies.
What you can do: Take charge! Such supervisors are more common than you’d think. When a technically less skilled but receptive supervisor is paired with a technically skilled team, it’s a win-win situation for all.  The work environment is progressive and there is something for everyone to learn.
Transferable Skills
These skills range from hard skills like simply being able to operate MS Office to soft skills like being a good communicator. Most of the supervisors who lack transferable skills have most likely not stayed very long in a single organisation or have been there for far too long.
What you can do: Buckle up to produce 16-hrs. of work in half the time. You will most likely not be given credit for the copious amount of work that you accomplish on a daily basis, but it’s a great opportunity to learn as much as possible. It’s an opportunity to pro-actively take responsibility for tasks that are not listed in your job description, empower your profile and make a move to a better opportunity, internally or externally.
Personal Skills
These are indispensable in any work scenario.  Even the most expendable individual contributor is expected to have at least some personal skills in order to coexist and work effectively in an organisation. People with exceptional personal skills coupled with the right technical skills and relevant experience are mostly well liked and climb the corporate ladder much faster than others. Look up some prominent leaders. They all have one thing in common; they are charismatic and adept orators. Skills like teamwork, ability to trust and motivate others, patience, empathy, and good communication skills are only to name a few. However, these skills are mostly inherent or honed over a long period of time. The more you rub shoulder with the right influencers, the more you will cultivate your personal skills.
What you can do: Take the initiative to communicate from your end. Request regular catch-ups with your supervisor. Being detailed and prepared before any meeting would be an ideal thing to do. Ask for one-on-one feedback sessions intermittently. If you are confronted with an issue, the exigency of which doesn't seem to sink in with your boss, be patient and present your explanation in a discussion. Work on your emotional quotient; it’s imperative when dealing with unreceptive and unresponsive supervisors.
The image of a perfect boss is an illusion. Imperfection provides a lot of room for people to learn new skills and progress in their careers. It’s important to understand that most of these shortcomings aren't deliberate. They are a part of their personalities or projections of their deepest insecurities.
I kept thinking about my friend’s incompetent boss long after our conversation. It’s evidence enough of our narrow outlook and how often we term the poor fish incompetent based on its ability to climb a tree. 

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