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My Supervisor is an Idiot

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There are plenty of books and articles on being a good leader and being a good follower.  Indeed, excellent followership starts with leadership.  Moreover, there are a lot of good books because there a lot of people who need leadership training and mentoring.  But, what do you do when your supervisor is an idiot?  Here are ten tips:



When you are frustrated it is counterintuitive that supportive behavior will improve the situation.  But, your supervisor's idiotic behavior is may be founded in their lack of skills or in a sense of being overwhelmed.  Adding fuel to the fire by being less than supportive will only make it worse.  And, there is a good chance that your support will help you boss over some hump.



There is no room for complaining down the chain of command.  In some instances, subordinate leaders allow their followers to gripe about the leader's boss.  This is a very bad thing to encourage.  And, it is encouraged by leaders who remain silent when they hear negative comments and don't take action.  It ALWAYS encourages the followers to focus off mission and it ALWAYS creates an environment where complaining and sniping about you is acceptable.  It undermines your authority.  When you hear it, don't acknowledge, focus the followers back on the mission without reference to the comment.  If it continues, make it clear that negative comments about your leader are inappropriate and focus your people on the mission.



There is being an idiot and then there's being a dangerous idiot.  Understand that any action you take to correct your leaders actions may have consequences.  However, if your leader is doing something dangerous, unethical or illegal you must act.  You have a duty to protect your followers even if it is at personal risk.



Every organization has some type of feedback loop.  While it is likely your boss's boss knows that your leader is a knucklehead, use appropriate feedback loops to ensure the information is communicated.  It could be as simple the organizations suggestion box.



Okay, you might be the idiot.  Every leader needs a mentor.  Find someone, outside your chain of command with whom you can have confidential communication.  Maybe it is you, maybe your leader is not as bad as you perceive.  Get feedback on your observations and conclusions.  Make sure you have the right idiot identified.



Read the Red Badge of Courage.  One of the more interesting passages is when the main character thinks they are losing the battle.  Well, in his few feet of the war it certainly looks that way.  On the contrary, his side is winning.  The character's skewed perspective causes him to make some very bad decisions.  If your leaders seems like an idiot, or the mission seems sideways, make sure you have as much understanding of the wider organizational goal(s) as possible.  Maybe its only the few feet in front of you that make the decisions and actions of your leader seem idiotic.



Repeat back instructions and directions.  Use active listening skills to help your leader clarify and perhaps re-think.  As an example, re-state to clarify; as I understand you, you want me to  Make sure you are not misunderstanding what is required (making it seem idiotic) and use active listening to help your boss analysis his or her own decisions.



You can never go wrong doing your best.  Yes, you might make an idiot look good, but less than your best effort hurts your organization and your followers.  Don't be tempted by the evils of passive sabotage. 



Idiots tend to rotate in and out.  Again, this is a perspective issue.  Don't let the current idiot define your career.  Don't take some action (or inaction) solely because you believe your supervisor is an idiot.  Don't create a train wreck in your career based on your perceptions of the current idiot - do you job and do it well.



It goes without saying.  The point is not to build a case against your idiot supervisor.  The point is to be able to defend your actions if your supervisor focuses his or her idiocy on you.  Don't be ruined by an idiot, either!



Using poker as analogy for leadership, Captain Andrew Harvey, CPD (ret.), Ed.D. and Lieutenant Raymond E. Foster, LAPD (ret.), MPA found the right mix of practical experience and academic credentials to write a definitive book for leaders. Working together, Harvey and Foster have written Leadership: Texas Hold em Style. Most often leaders find they are given a set of resources people, equipment, funds, experience and a mission. As Foster noted, "You're dealt a certain hand. How you play that hand as a leader determines your success."

  • More than a book: A fun and entertaining journey through leadership that includes an interactive website to supplement knowledge gained from the book.
  • Proven and Tested: Not an academic approach to leadership, but rather a road-tested guide that has been developed through 50-years of author experience.
  • High Impact: Through the use of perspective, reflection, and knowledge, provides information that turns leadership potential into leadership practice.
  • Ease of Application: Theory is reinforced with real-life experience, which results in accessible and practical tools leaders can put to use immediately.
  • High Road Approach: Personal character and ethical beliefs are woven into each leadership approach, so leaders do the right thing for the right reasons.
  • Uses Game of Poker:  Rather than a dry approach that is all fact and no flavor, the game of poker is used as a lens through which to view leadership concepts.


Lieutenant Raymond E. Foster, LAPD (ret.) was a sworn member of the Los Angeles Police Department for 24 years.  He holds a bachelors from the Union Institute and University in Criminal Justice Management and a Master's Degree in Public Financial Management from California State University, Fullerton.  And, continues with his doctoral studies in creative and ethical leadership. Raymond is a graduate of the West Point Leadership program and has attended law enforcement, technology and leadership programs such as the National Institute for Justice, Technology Institute, Washington, DC.

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