Hi All,

I'm a long-time listener but haven't been very active on the forums.  I'll cut to the chase... I have a useless manager.  He's a director, and I report to him - I manage a team of 15 people.  When I say useless, it's not a rant.  He is truly an ineffective, inefficient manager.

I have no interest in taking his job, but when I can clearly see that there was an error in selection when his boss chose him, something's gotta give.  I've had to tolerate his incompetence for a few years but recently, he pushed me across the line when he stole one of my ideas.  It's a BIG idea.  

I'm vitally interested in the success of this company.  However, he's clearly in the way.  He lacks vision, leadership, understanding of the business, etc. -the list is endless.  I'm fed up.  I'd start polishing my resume but I don't want to have to be the one to go!  Like I said, I'm passionate about the company I work for.  He's the one who needs to go.  I'd like to be able to have a reasonable conversation with my boss' boss without looking like an undermining snitch who's just unhappy with his boss.  How can I do this?


scm2423's picture
Licensee Badge

I would say go.  One, you have issues with your boss and you know you cannot manage your boss.  Two, telling your skip that he made a mistake in hiring your boss is not going to turn out well for you.  The problem here is for your skip to do anything they have to admit that they made a mistake and correct it.  Do you want to stick you neck on the line hoping that they will admit to the mistake? 

So you can either look for other opportunities within the company or look for a new place to work.  One of the problems you may have staying with the same company is that if your boss is truly so ineffective, you might get painted with the same brush.  Do others see your boss as being the issue, or do they see it as being a problem with your department?  It is a hard question to ask others as they might see it as you complaining about the boss.

So I would go, but only if I was going to something better.  Make the transition about where you are going to not about what you are leaving.  I had a bad boss and loved the company and people I worked with.  I decided to leave, but because I made leaving about getting away from that I still have bad feelings about leaving.  I am in a better spot but still have some anger about having to go.   I don't need that anger it not good for me.  So go but make it about where you are going to, not about what you are getting out of.

TomW's picture
Training Badge

well, the short version is this: you can't. If you go to your boss' boss, then you're being the "undermining snitch who's just unhappy with his boss" that you're trying not to be.

The only real alternatives are to out-perform the person by so much that you get promoted around him, to wait him out and hope that he leaves or gets let go, or to leave and find something somewhere else.

You claim to love the company so much but just remember: if your boss goes, now you would work for the person who thought this person was good enough to put in this role. Is that a good place to be?

MPower's picture

I appreciate the feedback guys.  I should elaborate on a few points.

I knew when I posted this that going to my skip is pretty much impossible.  Others in the company that are close enough to him see how ineffective he is and are equally frustrated.   The other thing is that the skip is in a different geographic office (in different states) - therefore, not able to see his day-to-day crap.  When sh*t hits the fan, my boss is great at making excuses to preserve himself... so I don't think my skip has really seen his true colors yet.  As for outperforming him, I wish it was so simple!  I've been outperforming him for two years.  So much, in fact, that every other cross-functional manager comes to me for everything, not him.  I've built some very strong alliances and relationships.  To that point, I confidently believe that if any other position in the company came up, I wouldn't have a negative light cast on me because of my boss' uselessness.  


AManagerTool's picture

Find another job and quit, politely and without visible malice.  There is simply nothing else that can be done without negative consequences for yourself.  The Peter Principle is alive and well.

MPower's picture

All signs point to leave.  This sucks...  

I'm afraid that with him... it's the Dilbert Principle.  Peter Principle is giving him too much credit.  

jhack's picture

It's unlikely he's as bad as you think.  

It's easy to characterize one's boss based on what we know about our jobs.  And maybe he's not a good boss for you.  However, he may be doing things that help his boss.  He may be doing things you can't see.  

Here's the conundrum (implied by posters above):  either he's completely ineffectual and he hasn't been let go because the company is poorly managed, or this is a great company, in which case your boss is contributing something you can't see.  

But it can't be true that this is a well run company and he's as bad as you describe.  

John Hack

MPower's picture

Hi John,

I appreciate the feedback.  On any given day, I'd offer the exact same advice to someone else who would present the conundrum I've presented.  However, this is truly a scenario where that advice does not apply (no offense, please).  Put it this way, we presently have two bosses (him and I) doing the same job.  The only differences are the titles and the fact that the entire load is on me.  My perspective is not a misperceived characterization, unfortunately.  

The only way I can back up what I'm saying is with this analogy.  Consider me the type of person who is self-aware, confident, capable, honest, fair, and all that jazz.  For me to create this post is the equivalent of a dog desperate to be let out to pee.  I've done my waiting, and tolerating, and creative positioning, etc.  I'm now at the edge and need to relieve myself. 

jhack's picture

Best of luck in your search.  

There is a little voice inside me that says, "There is data missing, because it doesn't all add up.  Something else is going on here."  

You (and we) will likely never know what it was.  

John Hack

jhbchina's picture


Sorry to hear about your situation, it sucks and it has happened to others before and it will always happen. Your boss might think his boss sucks for not firing you! Just kidding, but possible.

The economy sucks, job hunting is not the thing to be doing these days, even with the Manager Tools Interview series advantage. Create a visual that will lead to a promotion. Other than your boss, what does the company need, and how can you come up with a SUPER solution that will let senior management promote you. Create a new market, launch a new product or process.

Keep looking for that solution by networking within the company, sharing ideas with associates and listen to customers. It will come, otherwise one day you will go.

JHB "00"

FlyingDutchman's picture

A recurring theme of Manager Tools is that one cannot manage ones own boss.

Nevertheless, as in the example of this posting, there are many examples of incompetent bosses that destroy value for organizations.

In a competitive world where companies fight for success and sometimes plain survival, how come that these bosses (as any other underperforming employee for that matter) do not get winnowed out?

Unfortunately, the fact of life is that when it comes to selecting people meritocracy works only partly at best.  People typically do business with people they trust, people thy’ve got a great relationship with. And when elements like trust and relationship are strong, people become almost blind to differences in quality or merit.  Relationships are more easily formed with people we know and who we can trust will follow our line rather than clever, competent ones that may not follow us when called. 

I applaude Manager Tools efforts at improving management practices. It provides us effective working practices for dealing with the real world. Nevertheless, I see a gap in the recommended approach when dealing with incompetent or inefficient bosses.  Leaving for other jobs and/or putting up with it because the power sits with the bosses do not promote efficient management practices in the workplace.

Could this - how to deal with incompetent and inefficient bosses - become a new Manager Tools podcast and forum thread?

PaulSchweer's picture
Admin Role Badge

FlyingDutchman, not sure I follow...  Are you implying good business relationships can exist without some history of quality results?  And/or the inverse?

As for future podcasts, isn't there already a bad boss cast?  (And more planned, I believe.)  Not to mention the cast on what to do if you hate your job...

Paul Schweer


FlyingDutchman's picture


Thanks for pointing me to these previous podcasts. Useful material indeed, and I could find some useful answers to my questions.

Regarding your first question - can good business relationships exist without history of quality results. In an efficient world, short run mistakes may be possible but continuous under-performance would eventually become unsustainable. However, reality is a bit less straightforward than that. As we have seen in the recent crisis, bad business models can goon  undetected on for years, underperforming assets can be sold as gems to gullible customers, and customers, investors, shareholders and employees can all live in a grand delusion.  We have seen legendary institutions (Lehman Brothers, Bear Sterns) going under because of gross mismanagement and underpricing of risks by highly paid superstars, undoubtedly selected by internal corporate systems as good people and managers, who until then had delivered good results... or so it seemed at least until then. 

I am personally convinced the best cure for such misbehaviours and systemic failures at the root of the latest crisis is to have more accountability, more efficiency and transparency, together with simpler and clearer rules of the game. This is very much in line with Manager Tools prescriptions and recommendations, which I wish were even more widely followed than they clearly are.  

When the under-performing individual also happens to be a boss, this should be detected in the system by the boss' own boss and addressed. I appreciate that directs may not be in the best position to report and address their own bosses underperformance. In the "manage own boss" casts there are useful, practical pointers to help directs and also clear indications as to the limits that directs have in that process.