Everyone moans about their boss. Fact! There are occasions when your Executive takes ages to get back to you on something, they are always in a meeting or out travelling. They never have enough time. They don’t manage your needs or expectations. They don’t make decisions, or they make the wrong decision, and they don’t lead effectively. These are all common gripes. But, for Assistants, we get to see the reasons behind all of these failings. They are mega busy, they have so much responsibility, their team is enormous, and they don’t have time for everyone. They don’t delegate enough, or they delegate too much. They have problems at home, or they are too stretched. We see it all, and usually, we know there are reasons for these behaviours. We can offer support so that the team moan less about the boss and work gets done. That is where we add value, right? But what happens when the support we offer isn’t enough? What happens when we are working with an incompetent Executive and no matter the level of support, they suck at their job?
Leave? Easier said than done for some people. So, what can we do? How do we overcome the frustrations and support someone really bad at their job? Here are a few thoughts!
Working with an incompetent Executive
Don’t make them into something worse than they are.
They are a person who is failing, don’t make them into a monster, because they probably are not. Remember that as an Assistant you need to show empathy, even when their incompetence is soul destroying!
Where is the incompetence?
Usually, people are promoted because they have the technical ability to get the job done, or they can generate a lot of income for the business. Either way, very few people are promoted because of their people skills or leadership abilities. So, in your Executive’s case, where do the incompetencies lie? Is it that they can do the work but can’t manage the people? Or they spend too long managing the people that the actual business gets neglected? As their Assistant, you gain insights into the behaviours that are hidden to other members of staff. Use that to your advantage. Work out the issues and then start to plan how you can help support those weaknesses.
How can you help?
The first thing to say is that your incompetent Executive will have some understanding that they are not quite making the grade (even if they are outwardly the most egotistical person on the planet) which means, they will have their barriers firmly in place. They are not going to ask for help, so you need to work out, on the sly, what it is that you can help with and then work out a plan to get them to trust you enough to accept your help.
To do this, you need to be the person that never moans about them. You need to be on their team, on their side and you need to find a human angle that you can work with.
If they are entirely unaware or in denial they are never going to acknowledge their shortcomings. You need to accept that and find a way to communicate with them. For example, if they are not giving you the access you need to do your job, you should say something like “I need your help. I want to be great in this role, and I know I can offer a lot of support, but I need you to help me with that [and list the specific things you want him/her to do – access to calendar, make decisions on their behalf, attend meetings etc.]”.
Remember always to come prepared with solutions. They will have so many problems to fight, be the person that comes with answers.
Fill in the gaps.
Speak to your colleagues, what is your boss lacking? What are they not getting from your Executive? Where can you help? Do they need a sounding board and your boss is too busy to listen? Do they need things signed off? Can you plan an effective way to get those decisions made quickly? Can you sign things off on your Executive’s behalf?
All of the above are examples of managing up, which is just something you will have to do if your Executive is incompetent. Always think to yourself, what do you need to do for the good of the business?
Build your support network.
As an Assistant, it is essential that you have a support network in the office, made up of different levels within the business. It is even more critical that you do this if you work for an incompetent boss.
If you don’t have a network of people who all know that you are brilliant, everyone is going to think you are just as incompetent as your Executive, and the danger is that you get blamed for their incompetencies.
So, get out there, get known, make sure everyone knows who you are rather than being perceived as only your Executive’s Assistant. Make sure you are known as someone who makes things happen despite your Executive. Get good at specific niche tasks that you could potentially move into if your Executive gets fired (which is likely if they are entirely rubbish).
Think strategically, who do you want to impress the most? Probably your Executive’s boss, right? Well yes, but shine in front of all of your Executive’s peers, make good connections with your HR representative, make sure those key players know that you are not responsible for your Executive’s failings.
Look after your mental health.
There is no denying that working for an Executive who is floundering is a drain on everyone around them, but this is particularly true of Assistants. Concentrate and focus on what you like about your role, the organisation or the other people around you. As soon as you start to feel resentful, angry and ultimately unmotivated, you are not going to be able to lead yourself and your colleagues out of this situation. And that is when it is probably time to move on.