National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Bad Boss

BY Dave Durand

May 24-30, 2009 Issue | Posted 5/15/09 at 7:51 PM

 

I work for an incompetent manager who uses a democratic form of decision-making. This might be okay in some workplaces, but ours is a hospital — so we're lacking not only in communication and leadership but also patient care. (You can imagine the potential consequences.) Should I speak up?

The frustration in your question is palpable. I will answer your question with the assumption that you are conveying an accurate and unbiased description of the situation. But first, some points to reflect on.

Could stylistic differences between you and your boss be coloring your opinions of the issues at hand? Might you be perceiving your supervisor as incompetent where someone else would see this person as, say, diplomatic or cautious or thorough? After all, unless she was promoted based on nepotism, she probably brings at least some redeeming contributions to the table.

Now: An incompetent superior can be very difficult to stomach. This circumstance renders you with little control, so your choices are limited. Still, there are some things you can do. I suggest you start by accepting the reality that you only have control over your own actions. Then consider that, as Catholics, we should value hierarchy in the workplace. Without it, there would be complete disorder.

Also, honoring an employer can be a way to live the Fourth Commandment ("Honor your father and your mother") above and beyond the call of mere duty. Our boss is not our parent, but he or she is the head of the "household" that is our workplace.

This may not be easy, but it can make for a purifying approach to the working life. Accepting your position of obedience can actually increase your job satisfaction because it removes you from a "fight" you just can't win, one that will sap your self-motivation. Acceptance is an important first step because it can help lower the level of frustration you feel when she sets a dubious direction for your department. You have an opportunity to grow in faith and to be perfected.

Next, you should only ask her for advice or input when you need it to do your job. In all other cases, do what you need to do in order to get your work done and give patients the best care you can give. If she holds you back from giving your best effort, present the problem to her in a professional manner. Meanwhile, wherever you feel annoyed but not held back, let it go. Offer up your feelings of frustration to God.

You might want to track, date and record your differences of opinion on approaches and functions, as well as specific conversations. Record these in a journal so that you have an accurate memory of what took place. Be sure to enter this information objectively with little or no emotional commentary. This documentation will serve you well if ever a serious mistake is made and your role in it is questioned. But the record should never be used to settle trivial issues.

Your supervisor's democratic approach to leadership could be a sign of insecurity. The upside is that it offers you an open invitation to voice your opinion. Why not take the opportunity to try to win her trust? If you succeed, she may eventually begin to seek out your advice. This can take time — in fact, it may never come to pass — but the potential payoff is worth the effort. You won't feel held back from performing to your potential, your department will benefit by your expertise, and you won't waste time and energy digging in your heels for a fight you cannot win.

If your boss is genuinely in over her head, she won't last long as a leader. Leave that decision up to her superiors and do all your work "from the heart, as for the Lord" (Colossians 3:23). In the end, he's the only "supervisor" you'll ever find with no areas of incompetence.

Catholic business

consultant Dave Durand

is online at DaveDurand.com.