New Boss Is Just Not Competent?  Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I got promoted about six months ago. My new boss, who used to be my old boss’s boss, is just not competent.

When I try to clarify priorities with her, she changes her mind so many times that I end up more confused than ever. She doesn’t attend meetings that she calls, so we all spend ten minutes in a flurry of emails and chats trying to figure out why the teleconference meeting hasn’t started. She also blows off one-on-one meetings. When she does show up, she talks endlessly about her personal life—she has a bunch of kids and one of them is always sick, or she is renovating her house, and we all have to hear the gory details. She never asks us about ourselves. She complains about how much everything costs, but we all know she makes a crazy high salary so we can’t imagine how she thinks we are going to feel sorry for her.

My former boss is now somewhat of a peer, although much more experienced than I am. I have tried to talk to her about this to get a reality check, but she really doesn’t see the problem. She just says, “yeah, (New Boss) is busy / she has a lot on her plate / she is usually very caring and clear.” She advises me to be patient, but I am not sure how long I can last.

I feel like a comedy routine on TikTok. I end every single workday thinking …



Dear WTH,

All of that hilarious material on TikTok came from someone’s real life. You’d think ridiculous bosses would recognize themselves and pause.

The way I see it, you have two avenues you could go down:

  1. You can take your former boss’s advice and just be patient; or
  2. You can bail and find another job, or look for another job and then bail when you get one.

I read nothing in your letter about how much you like the company in general, how inspired you are by the mission of the company, or how much you do or don’t enjoy the actual work or your coworkers. So you will want to take all of that into consideration. If you are generally happy with all of the above, there might be some value in hanging on and waiting for your boss to stabilize.

It is entirely possible that she is going through a bunch of personal stuff you don’t know about. Maybe she or someone she loves is suffering from a major health issue. Maybe her home renovation is driving her into debt (she wouldn’t be the first person to be driven to the brink by a home construction or renovation project). Or if she gives the impression one of her kids is always sick, maybe it’s true and the stress is more than she can handle.

My point is that someone you seem to trust has suggested you give your boss the benefit of the doubt. So you might just want to try that.

If you don’t like your work, your coworkers, or your company, there really isn’t much reason for you to stay, so you might as well start looking for another job. Keep in mind there’s a good chance you’ll get a substandard boss in your next job, too—there are so many of them. And there are far worse ways to be a bad boss. Maybe you’ll get a boss who is petty, mean, driven by unconscious bias, critical, or a nasty combo of all of those things. From what I can tell, yes, your boss is a flake, but she isn’t causing actual suffering.

If you do decide to stay, you will want to reach out to your coworkers to get clarity on priorities. That will help you clear up your confusion, which seems to be the thing that is really bugging you and causing most of your discomfort. Then I recommend you find a way to give your boss some grace until she can get her act together. The more you look for things to criticize, and the more you feed your judgment, the worse you will feel about your job.

You have choices here. You can choose your attitude. You can choose to learn from your boss how to be a better boss when it’s your turn. You can choose to be patient and find ways to help her out. You can choose to be kind, regardless of whether you stay or go. And who knows? You, too, may go viral with boss comedy on TikTok. It is all so funny, and things are funniest when they’re true.

Love, Madeleine

About Madeleine

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.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response soon. Please be advised that although she will do her best, Madeleine cannot respond to each letter personally. Letters will be edited for clarity and length.

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