My Boss Doesn't Know That Pickles Are Actually Cucumbers!
My Boss Doesn't Know That Pickles Are Actually Cucumbers!
Hi Deb:

I have an unusual situation with my new manager. In short, she’s both incompetent and not particularly smart. She doesn’t write well at all; I have taken to rewriting much of what she does, because it pains me that she doesn’t know the difference between their, they’re, and there. We are in the middle of developing a new product for a new market, and when I asked her what her channel management strategy was—that is, how is she going to sell this into the market—she said that she was going to call people up and tell them about it, so that they will buy it over the phone. She has a 5-year revenue goal of $10M! Last week, a coworker was talking about how she was going to pickle the cucumbers from her garden. The boss replied, “What do you mean? You can’t make pickles! You have to buy them.” She was astounded that pickles start out as cucumbers. I am at a loss, and I don’t know how to handle this situation, and more importantly, I’m afraid that being on her team is going to hurt my career here.


Dear Carlos:

That’s quite a pickle you have there! (Sorry; I couldn’t resist.) You have two problems. First, you have a manager who doesn’t have the vision to lead and is ill equipped for the role. Second, you have to worry about your reputation being sullied by association.

The first problem is not your problem. That’s a problem for her management. And the reality is that they may not care. I know it is completely illogical, but there are many reasons senior management loves incompetent middle managers. Often this is because they are known entities, because they conform to the status quo, and because they are easy to work with—they don’t rock the boat. You can speculate as to how she got the position she has, but you won’t know for sure. It’s not really important anyway. What is important is that you do not go bashing her to other people, or complaining about her to her boss. That would be career suicide.

The second problem is definitely your problem. You don’t want her incompetence, perceived or real, to reflect poorly upon you. To avoid that, you need to do a couple of things. First, and perhaps most importantly, you need to continue to perform at the level at which you have been performing. Without clear direction and strategy from your boss, this may be rather difficult, and will require you to do extra legwork in order to figure out what needs to be done. You also need to be polite and respectful to her at all times. Lastly, continue building your personal brand both online and offline, as that will speak more for you than will the team you were on.

All my best,