What To Do When an Idiot Takes Over
How to survive the worst boss ever...
A number of years ago I was consulting with the production company for a national TV program. Things were going well until the founder of the organization moved the program producer into another area of the company and brought in what turned out to be an idiot to run the TV production.
I know—as a Christian I shouldn’t call him an “idiot,” but honestly, he was exactly that.
He decided to establish his authority early, so he wasn’t interested in meeting anyone, getting up to date on the show, or listening to anyone’s ideas. He started dictating his plans on day one, and it was his way or the highway.
He was condescending, rude, and never tired of telling us how qualified he was and how lucky we were to have him as a boss. In one meeting, I waved hello to a friend walking by outside the conference room, and he yelled at me. He shouted in front of everyone that when he’s talking I need to focus on HIM.
Needless to say, after about six months, he left such a trail of chaos and destruction that he was finally fired, but those six horrible months were a death march.
Whether you want to admit it or not, most of us have had an idiot take over the department, studio, team, or project at some point. So what do you do? How do you survive? Here’s a list of ideas that’s helped me keep away from the ledge:
1) As difficult as it may be, be respectful. In my long experience working with idiots, I’ve discovered that most of them are overbearing because they’re insecure. They’re desperate to prove to everyone they’re worthy of leadership, but what they don’t realize is that if you have to constantly remind people you’re the leader, then you’re not the leader. So in spite of wanting to do the opposite, show him a little respect, and chances are, he or she will back off a bit.
2) Don’t take it personally. Remember, as miserable as this is, it’s HIS problem not yours.
3) Help him save face by finding solutions. There’s no need to suck up, but after all, if you make him (or her) look good, he’s likely to soften up and want you around—maybe even elevate you. At the very least, he probably will be less inclined to harass you if you’re helping him.
4) Set boundaries right from the start. Never get upset or angry, but as pleasantly as possible, be very clear about your job description and let him know what lines you won’t cross.
5) Keep a paper trail. Keep as many conversations as possible in email form so you have a record of his being an idiot. Keeping a written record of your personal interactions will help as well. You never know when showing a higher up some evidence will help fix the problem – er, person. Idiots are often good at “managing up” so their bosses think they’re brilliant. That’s why documentation is essential should you ever get the chance to expose him.
6) Know when to leave. The phrase is true: “Go where you are celebrated, not where you are tolerated.” Never feel trapped in a crazy house with an idiot boss, and stop lying to yourself. Always keep your resume up to date, always be networking, and always be confident enough in your abilities, gifts, and calling to jump ship if necessary.
And honestly, it may take your threat of jumping ship to get the attention of an idiot’s boss. If you’re a hard-working, loyal, and talented team member, being willing to walk out the door may get someone else’s attention.
It doesn’t always work, but my feeling is, being willing to walk away at any time may be the most powerful weapon you have in dealing with an idiot.
Anyone else have good advice for dealing with an idiot boss?
Many times my first reaction may be to push back on “the idiot’s” decisions, especially if it effects me. However, if I give them a chance to succeed and let them know I want to help him succeed it just may change the dynamic. Does it work all the time, no, but at least you give it your best shot. Most of the time once it plays out that person will be moved somewhere else or possibly let go.
I like your idea that you’ve given it your best shot. I would never want to walk away from the situation without knowing “I left it all on the field” as football players say…
Despite the intense negative reactions it generated, the Super Bowl TV spot from “Jesus, He Gets Us” that depicted scenes of great hatred, ended with the tagline: “Jesus loved the people we hate. He gets us. All of us.”
EDO, a company that measures the TV ads people watch and how they engage online with the ad’s product afterward, said the metrics of the “He Gets Us” black and white commercial titled “Love Your Enemies” came in at number 2 for engagement for all commercials aired during the Super Bowl.
Jesus never promised it would be easy to love your neighbor, much less your idiotic boss, but he did command we do it.
It’s especially difficult when you’re knee deep in the chaos, but you’re exactly right. We still need to love that idiotic boss…. 🙂
Never stop praying for that idiot!
In my case, I did jump ship. I left and built a successful career. Then, many years later, God changed both his heart and mine and we are close and have each other’s complete trust.
That insecurity and need for control is sometimes fueled by the person being in way over their head, but they need to show leadership. They lash out or make bone headed calls because they are being driven by their insecurity. In the end though, if they are interested in growing they will pivot and change, and eventually learn a new way to lead.
Great point. And you’re exactly right that it’s often a person who is way over their head – and knows it.
I was in a similar position several years ago. The “idiot” was the guy who had hired me, so its hard to shoot down the guy who turns out to have bad ideas when you may be one of them. Despite literal tears from the mental turmoil and manipulation, I made a choice to do two things. One, “not my monkey not my circus”, literally. I did everything asked, and to my best ability, however I removed my creative ownership of the program, which was difficult, but it help me to cope that I didn’t need to own the mess or fix it. Second, I built relationships with the whole staff outside our department, both above and below this boss. One day I was asked in a management meeting, the idiot was not in, why were we not producing the content style the management team had assigned us and I said the idiot modified their assignments to his liking and refused our input, which was the truth. A few days later the idiot was gone, and I was assisting bringing the department back together. I feel truth will win in most cases if you’re patient and if you serve first and not make things worse by gossiping or threatening to leave. If you need to leave, then leave, there’s no dishonor. But don’t say how much you hate a place and just stay there. That season was the worst of my career, however afterwards turned into a win because our team was unbeatable after the season of the idiot.
“Don’t say how much you hate a place and just stay there.” That is brilliant. One of my pet peeves is people who constantly complain about their job, but keep accepting the paycheck. No matter what the circumstance, either buy in or walk away. Thanks for that story and advice!
The paper trail point is vital. In addition, it’s important to maintain consistent communication with the idiot. It gives that person every opportunity to hear you and take your advice, and at the least, it can develop a relationship that might help things turn out for the better (if that’s possible). I’m guilty of not doing this very well – mainly because I don’t want to be two-faced.
Well said. You’re exactly right that consistent communication is critical.
Oh man, the stories I could tell. My best advice is to survive what you can, keep your integrity and get out when the opportunity is right.
Needed this. Thanks for the golden wisdom everyone!
Great article, Phil, and great comments from the rest of you!
Though I am not sure I ever worked under “an idiot,” I have certainly worked under younger, less-experienced bosses who were eager to wield their “clout,” while being more focused on pleasing THEIR bosses than on doing what was truly best for the organization.
And over time I learned, as others have suggested, that it’s best to try and avoid arguing with this younger boss, and instead be strategic in supporting them in ways that make the whole team look good. Often, if you network and communicate consistently (and widely), those above your boss will have the perceptiveness to see that YOU were truly more essential to the team’s overall success.
Great suggestion Key. You’re exactly right – arguments don’t get anywhere with someone like this. Thanks for posting!
Brings to mind The Caine Mutiny, which I recently listened to as an audiobook. In some situations, you can’t leave (in this case, the Navy). One needs to tread very carefully, especially in trying to solve such situations. You can end up as the victim, with the idiot still in charge and holding all the cards.
Great example. Thanks for sharing it!
Good to see so many excellent responses here from friends of mine, and I appreciate that none of them have identified me as “The Idiot.” That demonstrates both integrity and restraint (which I find equally loathsome…)
Paper trail! Outstanding! No one seems to understand the concept today of this simple action.
Well done on all points. Thanks for sharing your insight.