Several people think like this. Some are right, some are wrong. Either way, working for a boss who you think is less qualified than you, is a very frustrating position to be in. And waiting for them to leave is even more frustrating. Managing this situation requires 3 actions:
- Assessment of facts.
- Analysis of the situation.
- Action planning.
Assessment of facts: you should be prepared to really challenge your thinking here. It is only by taking the time to look at the facts, can you honestly conclude your opinion. I can think of times in my career where I felt I was a better candidate to be the boss and was wrong. Equally, I can think of times where I thought my boss was more qualified than me and was wrong.
What make you feel this way in the first place? What does your boss (or not do) that makes you feel things are the wrong way round? Were they already in the job when you arrived? (This may mean you have missed part of the story). Or were they promoted above you? (This may mean they simply interviewed better than you. A successful interview doesn’t mean the best candidate unfortunately).
Are you frustrated because you think the work they produce is of lesser quality than you? Do you feel they don’t put in the same hours as you? What skills are they lacking that you feel you are better at? Once you are clear in your mind why you feel the way you do, you can start to analyse the situation.
Analysis: consider the questions above as examples.
Work quality: do you feel your work is of higher quality? Ask yourself this – are you comparing specific pieces of work or all of it? Being better in certain areas of work doesn’t mean they aren’t qualified to be your boss. How poor is their quality of work? Are you certain you are not being overly critical? Is there a reason why their work is of poor quality – maybe it wasn’t always like this and something else is going on. Isn’t it acceptable that they have development needs too? Have they shared their appraisal with you? This is a useful thing they can do with their team as it may be what you are focusing on has already been discussed with their boss.
Hours: how do you actually know they are not putting the hours in? I guess this depends on the type of job and company you work for but many companies are flexible enough that you can work elsewhere as long as you are putting in the hours. Maybe they are working at night, maybe they have an agreement with their boss to work flexibly, maybe they have health issues. In a lot of these circumstances, it might just not be any of your business but it would be useful if there was a reason they were around less, they shared that reason. What can you do? This is maybe more tricky. You could start to request their help during times they are not normally around – do you email them but still get a response when they are not there? Chances are, you have your answer about their flexible hours. Ultimately, if they are behaving badly, getting away with it and you know this for sure, you will have to decide how far to take this with their boss. But I would advise if you are at challenge stage, you still speak to them first.
Skills: What skill are they lacking that you think you have? Is that particular skill absolutely essential to the role? Does it really mean they can’t be the boss? We all have expectations of our bosses and it is easy to be less forgiving of skill deficits when that person is higher up the ranks. People at all levels still need to be developed. No one, regardless of their position, is skillful in everything. (And those who think they are are terrible bosses).
Before you make a judgement, try to think about this objectively. Is this perceived lack of skill an actual issue or a personal irritation because you feel you are better in this area? These are two different things and will make you think about whether you can be more understanding or whether there is a wider problem.
Let’s consider an example. Your boss is a poor communicator. That is a skill that you want your boss to be good at. What do they do that demonstrates their lack of skill? Are they poor at sharing information? Ask them to share. Do they only speak to some people in the team and not others? Maybe the lack confidence. Are they visible? Maybe they trust the team and don’t feel they need to be. This is where good working relationships come into play because if you have this, it will be much easier to address. Employee – Boss is a two-way street.
I once had a boss who was a nice guy but his communication skills were not up to scratch. Some thought, including myself initially, (and I was mistaken), that he wasn’t good enough to be the boss. Probably because we had a good boss before him. We got on well but he had a tendency to disengage and not communicate with the team that much. Many people complained about his poor communication skills – but like a lot of people, only complained behind his back. The timing was good – he asked me to provide some written feedback as part of his appraisal and I commented: “Whilst I personally feel we have achieved a good working relationship with effective communication in place, I think it fair to suggest that A’s challenge will be further developing this skill with all of those around him”. I thought this was a nicer way to share my observation (particularly as part of a constructive appraisal). He agreed and I felt better I had shared this in a professional way rather than being just another office gossip. The point here is, if you have a good working relationship with your boss and they are open to feedback, you shouldn’t have a problem addressing it. Once I did, I saw a different side to him and no longer felt frustrated or critical.
Action Planning: hopefully you have now made a more informed decision on whether you are more qualified than your boss. If ultimately you feel your initial reaction was right, and you feel things are the wrong way round and you are more qualified to be the boss than them, there are some things you can do to start addressing the situation:-
- Try to accept this isn’t personal: what if you were offered a job that you knew you weren’t ideally qualified for but your boss had faith in you and wanted to promote you. Would you take it? Most people would. Especially if there was more money on the table. Chances are they know their shortcomings, even if they don’t show it. People become boss’s for many reasons – being 100% qualified isn’t one of them. Also, mistakes happen. Sometimes the wrong people are promoted. This can be quite common in the public sector when someone’s professional/technical qualification often promotes them to a management role because others have failed to recognise a management job is a different profession and the two professions shouldn’t be confused.
- Be supportive and positive: work on your relationship with your boss. We are all people – we all come with flaws. What can you do to support them at work? Maybe if you have a good enough working relationship with them, they will confide in you that they feel out of their depth or are struggling with things. You might be surprised how many people would be more supportive at this stage, rather than turning their back on them. Feeling supportive of your boss = less frustration they are your boss.
- Remember who you are dealing with: they could be the one who promotes you, who tells others how good you are, who relies on you, who develops you, who becomes your friend. Tell them what you need from them to support your career.
- Focus on your own career: this is a good learning experience for you so stay focused on your career development. Improve your own skills and be the best version of yourself. Do you have a mentor you can talk to? What training and education can you focus on?
At the end of the day, you have a job to do and part of that job usually means seeing things from a team perspective rather than an individual one. Don’t gossip or complain to people about your boss – all you are doing is behaving unprofessionally and your reputation will suffer. Remember, talking about anyone when that person isn’t there, is gossip, no matter what your reasons.
If all else fails, you probably want to look for another job where you can grow. If you remain stuck for too long working for a boss who you know can’t help you develop, you are now stuck and not moving forward. This is your career after all.