I work in a large department, which is headed by an incompetent manager. I’m not being mean. He is just way over his head. He’s very good at the technical side of his job, but when it comes to working with people – especially managing them – he is clueless. He tends to have “favorites” who get special treatment and can do no wrong. That leads to a lot of resentment among the rest of us. Something needs to be done about the tension and low morale, but the manager doesn’t even seem to notice there’s a problem. How can we get him to see the problem and then fix it?
A.You have described one of the most common problems in the business world. Too often technical experts are promoted, not only out of their realm of expertise, but out of their comfort zones as well. And like most of us when we are out of our depth, they try to make sure no one finds out. They do this in a variety of ways. They may try to intimidate or deny access to information, or do what your boss is doing: surround himself with allies. When your boss picks these “favorites”, he is trying to make friends. Friends who will stick up for him and support him when he screws up. Friends who will help him not screw up. He seems unaware of the tension and low morale probably because he’s so focused on keeping up the appearance of leadership. Why not help him out? No one can be a good manager alone. Offer your own expertise in ways that will help him be successful as manager. Become a true ally. Help him gain the support of the rest of the department. You may have to do some of this behind the scenes to allow him to save face. But when he no longer feels threatened by his staff, he will be more likely to see the unique value of everyone in the department.