How can one learn when his boss isn’t knowledgeable? I belong to a human resources team and have been facing situations where my boss either doesn’t give the right answers or doesn’t give an answer at all.
Since I like to keep trust within the team, I tend to avoid sending e-mails to my boss if there is no major problem. That leaves me with the option of calling him. However, he doesn’t give me straight answers and often changes the topic when I ask him something.
If he does provide an answer and later things go wrong, he denies having provided the answer. This can get critical and embarrassing when dealing with colleagues across departments.
I have only five years of work experience and want to learn more. I have been looking for a mentor who can not only enhance my technical knowledge, but also help me grow as a person. But with this bad boss, I am constantly disappointed as I am very passionate about my field and my boss is the opposite.
Eager to Learn
You are not alone. As I was reviewing all of my letters from 2015, the number one issue people write to me about is an endless variation of “my boss is an imbecile.” In fact, if you Google my boss is an idiot, you get all kinds of good advice.
The New York Times published the results of a study conducted by their research and analytics department. For the question Do you think you are smarter than your boss?, 5 percent of respondents checked the box in everything, 14 percent checked in most things, and a whopping 56 percent checked in some things.
At this point, I need to mention that I always advise leaders to hire people who are smarter than themselves if they want to have a smart learning organization!
Actually, your situation sounds like three separate problems, all of which have slightly different potential solutions.
Problem #1: Your boss is actually misinformed and gives you incorrect answers that cause real problems for the people you support.
Your solution here is to stop depending on your boss for answers and discover your own resources to get the correct answers to questions you need. The Society for Human Resource Management has an amazing website designed to provide answers and resources. You might consider asking your company to pay for you to get an HR certificate so that you can build your knowledge base.
Another great site is HR Bartender. Sharlyn Lauby is a former HR consultant and devotes her site to helping HR folks like you get it right. Send her your questions. If she doesn’t know the answer she will track down someone who does. Legions of people in the workplace cannot count on their bosses for accurate and useful answers—and the ones who are successful cultivate other sources for development. This problem can be solved.
Problem #2: Your boss lies to cover up his errors.
Again, you are among throngs of people who have bosses who have a weak character and lack integrity. Everyone has a character flaw or two. The very lucky have bosses whose flaws don’t actually get in the way of the job. But your boss’s flaws will only continue to cause problems for you. This problem is not solvable. So—what to do?
You have a couple of choices. You can decide to stay where you are and work around your boss until he gets either promoted or discovered for who he really is. Or you could start looking for someone else to work for, either in your current company or somewhere else. You have five years in the workplace—that’s enough experience to decide what is most important to you. You need to figure out if you want to spend any more valuable time working for someone you don’t respect.
Problem #3: Your boss doesn’t care about the company, the field of human resources, or, apparently, you.
It is a manager’s job to help his employees be successful, and this is clearly not the case here. Your choice remains as outlined above.
We can learn a lot from terrible bosses—probably even more than from good ones. In fact, I find that young workers are often so busy looking for what’s wrong with their boss that they fail to notice what’s right. Take note of all the ways in which your boss is awful and make sure you never behave this way when you have employees.
About the author
Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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