how to work with an incompetent manager

I received the message below. I did my best to respond. When this challenge happens it is never simple, management competency has many layers … and generally, my first question is – are you the problem? There is a good chance that you are not a good fit for the job? – However, bad managers happen in many ways and having some ideas on how to make it work helps.
What do I do? They fired my manager two months ago and didn’t fill her role just reassigned the tasks to another manager, who is now managing my department plus two other departments.
How do I save my sanity when I want to perform, and everyone else is happy being mediocre? I need this paycheck and health insurance.

Here are four options, none are glamorous, and each has pluses and negatives


You do your best
  • You continue to do your work, document your progress in a way that shows you are doing your job and meeting or exceeding all expectations. You choose to keep your head down, focus on your work and what you can control and smile. You find a nonprofit or a hobby outside of work that makes you happy and you can dedicate your good energy too.
You make a strategic move
  1. Find where your work needs support and you know your manager will not do it for you;
  2. You identify those areas and write up a process, plan and implementation process of how you will do those things.
  3. You meet with your manager to review what you will do.
  4. You allow or request that your manager make these items part of your yearly goals and feedback.
  5. You highlight in a public way and to your manager’s manager how great this person is and how supportive they are.

This strategy may lead to them leaving you alone, and you doing what you want.

You go fully apathetic and stop trying
  • In most organizations, it is tough to get fired, as long as you are doing what is minimally asked you are more than likely fine. You make a fun game out vicious compliance or active apathy … and you keep score.
You friend up …
  • You and the manager become besties (just do it) … this will create cover, and you can work from the inside.

What you cannot do – it will make things worse

  1. Go to your manager’s manager and complain. This almost never ends well.
  2. Try to embarrass the new manager or outwork them.
  3. Stop doing your work
  4. Begin to think that your job defines the kind person you are. Work is a game, and it is a different play you act in to allow your other selves to eat and love your family.
  5. Bad mouth the new manager to peers.

What would you do? What have you done when you had to report to a manager you felt was incompetent?