When Incompetence Floats to the Top


chubby checker and a human oreo

So, the HUD secretary thought REOs were an Oreo, as in a kind of sandwich cookie you dunk in milk and probably pull apart to lick the luscious cream inside.

Don’t get me wrong, I love me an Oreo. But it’s terrifying when the person in charge doesn’t know what the hell they’re talking about.

It’s not just at HUD either. I’m sure many of us have worked for someone, at some point in our career, where the nicest thing we could have said about them is that they are a dipshit. If you haven’t, lucky you!

So how do you cope with working for somebody who doesn’t know what they are doing? They may be nice. They may be a great boss in their management style, have amazing soft skills, or they may be awful in every way. But as far as the work itself goes, they are in over their heads.

It’s tough, but there’s a few coping stratagems you can employ.

  1. Make them look good. Feed them the information they need so they can look decent in front of their boss. You have to be strategic about how you do this, obviously, so it doesn’t come across like your schooling them in the basics that they should obviously already know (cough cough Katie Porter!).Many of these incompetent bosses are competent enough to blame shift problems onto the people under them  ( and take the credit, too). By making your boss look good, you’re essentially protecting your own job –  for the time being at least. (And yes, this also goes by the term enabling.)


  1. Get your name out there. If at all possible, find ways to get your name and face in front of the people in charge. At the very least, aim to get some shared credit in projects and other deliverables.Your goal is try to have others see the work that’s being delivered as yours. This can go some way to protecting you if (when?) issues arise. The higher ups will know that you can actually deliver the goods, and the incompetence isn’t coming from you.


  1. Document your work. Keep a paper trail and as much documentation as possible to show your input in the work. Email chains, tracked changes, versions of documents as they’re edited – you get the picture. In the event a problem comes up,  you want to be able to show the work that you’ve done – and prove that it’s yours.


  1. Deal with it. Sometimes, your teeth you have to grit your teeth, and suck it up. Maybe not forever, though. Incompetence is hard to deal with, and you need to make an informed decision.

    You need to assess your situation, your prospects, and your goals. Where are you in the current organization? Where do you want to be in 1, 3, 5 years? Is there opportunity for advancement, either in your division or elsewhere? Do you want to stay?

Sometimes leaving and starting afresh is the best answer. But it’s a very individual decision and something you need to make on your own, based on your analysis of the situation, your options, and your personal goals. There can be times when coping with the boss’s incompetence is your best strategy. But you need to figure that out for each situation.

As for Ben Carson? Double stuff yourself.




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