Your Money > Smart Assets
Is your boss an idiot?
When it seems like Dopey's in charge, you're the one who's always out of your mind.
October 16, 2003: 12:54 PM EDT
By Jeanne Sahadi, CNN/Money Senior Staff Writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) You can't live with 'em. And you can't shoot 'em.

This, of course, is the dilemma when you work for an idiotic boss.

A lot of us have had the experience at least once. But once is plenty. That's because being the bright charge of a dim bulb often means suppressing the urge to say so many things, such as:

"So, why are you the boss?" That was surely on the minds of staffers at one Web start-up when they attended a meeting held to introduce the new chief technology officer. According to one former staffer, the CTO had zero Internet experience, a fact made all too apparent when he walked into the meeting carrying the book,"Building a Web Site for Dummies."

"Okay, did you not get the memo that it's the 21st century?" Often what makes a boss really aggravating isn't necessarily a lack of brain cells but an inability to channel them in appropriate ways. Take the boss who was presenting an award to a group of female employees and was reported to have said, "To my most attractive and shaggable team."

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"Ah, you got the memo. You just don't know what to do with it." Striving to make the office more diverse, head honchos at one company reportedly were quite pleased to have hired someone they just assumed was Latino on the basis of his last name. On the new hire's first day, the bosses kept asserting that surely, he speaks some Spanish. No, the employee said. "I'm Italian."

"Oh, good thinking. That'll boost morale." There's nothing like a little ice cream to make everything all better. That's what one top dog seemed to think when he threw an ice-cream party for the staff to raise spirits after he unexpectedly laid off several employees.

"Look, Mike. These are people. Say 'Hello.'" Some chieftains exhibit a stunning inability to deal with anything animate. One nonprofit director reportedly was studious in avoiding potential donors at fundraisers even though their contributions were vital to his organization's bottom line. Said one disgruntled former staffer: "You can't be afraid of your constituency."

"Hey, anybody see the big guy this year?" It's not unusual for a boss to be out of the office for a few days or even a few weeks at a time. But months? One head of a corporate unit had a tremendous fondness for his mobile home, so great that his staff created a "Where's the boss?" Web site, tracking the boss' whereabouts whenever he would check in with his assistant (which was only "every now and then," one former staffer said).

"Going where no man has gone before again, are we?" Going with your gut can be a good thing, except when your entire brain trust is telling you it's a bad idea. But try telling that to some bosses. The top deputies of one chief gave a vigorous thumbs-down to his proposal for a major client project. But the boss presented it to the client anyway. The client rejected the idea -- as vigorously as his top deputies, said one former manager. His deputies, meanwhile, made a successful pitch to another client, one the boss had spent no time cultivating.

Don't expect sweet justice

So you work for a dimwit. Unfortunately, you have two choices: Get over it or get out.

That's the advice from Kathleen Lundin, coauthor of "When Smart People Work for Dumb Bosses: How to Survive in a Crazy, Dysfunctional Workplace."

The problem in most cases, she said, is that your boss isn't going anywhere. Those who are in charge either had enough acumen to get themselves to the spot above you, they have the benefit of a protector, or they own the place.

"The boss is there and he or she is not going to change," Lundin said. "It's you who has to change."

The risk in staying is that you become part of the problem. By fitting in you may adopt some of your boss's craziness just to get things done and to get along. "It's unconscious. You just do it," Lundin said.

And then if you still have enough energy left for reflection, you may find you've lost all self-respect. "You then have to get in a mode of remaking yourself," she said.

So better to dodge a dope by leaving. That's easier said than done in a tough job market, but at the very least you might position yourself to change departments within the company.

"Standing still has no advantages if you're in a bad situation," Lundin said. "You've just got to get out."  Top of page

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