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How to Work with a New Boss Who is Less Skilled than You

Updated: Mar 7, 2022

How did they get hired?

This is what you are thinking while meeting with your new boss who not only has less experience than you, but maybe has also never been a manager. It makes you question your company’s recruiting process. How could they have been considered, let alone hired?

Maybe they lied on their application or are connected to an executive who helped them score the job. Or maybe the department head is trying to get “a new and fresh perspective” resulting in an unqualified hire.

You could speculate all day, but it will do nothing to help the situation. You work for a boss who is less skilled than you. Now what?

Some people respond in all the wrong ways. They gossip about the new boss and their lack of skills, take their frustration with the hiring process out on the boss (by being rude or unhelpful), or hoard information in a way that ultimately sets them up to fail. None of which helps you, your boss, or the organization.

Your success is dependent on theirs. The best outcome for you is to help your boss be successful. Channel your humanity, be curious, and focus on what you can control. Here’s how.

Be Empathetic and Patient

The first year of any management job is hard, even with all the right qualifications. This new boss is in a tough spot. Their learning curve is particularly steep given they may lack both technical and management skills. What anyone needs in this scenario is understanding, not judgement or isolation.

Step back and spend some time in their shoes. Think about what it would be like to be in the same circumstance and consider what would be helpful to you. Likely, you would want support, and a little compassion. This looks like being prepared to answer the same question a couple times. While this can be frustrating, a new boss in this position might need the same topic explained differently (maybe a few times) for it to stick.

Keep an open mind with ideas that seem off-base or disconnected and give benefit of the doubt. This means, understanding that they want to succeed in this position. If they suggest something that seems thoughtless or silly, understand that it’s coming from a place of wanting to perform, not to downgrade your work experience or embarrass the team. Instead, view it as a new leader wanting to make a positive impact at work.

Figure Out Their Strengths

Everyone is good at something. Find out what your boss’s strengths are. Anyone can make a positive contribution, even if their immediate skills and knowledge are lacking.

I was in this situation some time ago. My new boss was hired “to bring outside ideas” and knew very little about our area of work. To our team, it felt like we had been handed an onboarding project to train in our boss. This felt distracting and a waste of our time.

But then I observed her in a meeting with other leaders, she was charismatic, engaging, and convincing. She had a strength for influencing. It became clear that once she understood what we did, she would be able to affect some real change, which is what our team wanted. This was exciting and made the time spent explaining the work and educating her worth it.

Let Go of Your Ego

This requires being candid with yourself. What is the real source of your frustration? Are you feeling insulted because you weren’t chosen for the job? Or, maybe you just think you’re smarter and more effective? Either way, it’s time to let go of your ego. The boss is here, and the hiring process is in the past. Ruminating on it is only compromising your success, even your health. It’s time to move forward.

This might look like accepting that you both want the same thing, a supportive and satisfying work environment. You might dive into your own work, focus on your well-being, and identify how to be the team member you would want if you were in the same situation. Also helpful is reaching out to a trusted mentor or respected colleague. Explain the situation and ask for advice on how to maximize the relationship. Often, outside perspective from others is helpful.

When a new, less skilled boss arrives on the job, the only person you can control is yourself. You can choose to be irritated by the situation or you can choose to figure out how to make the most of it. Your credibility and reputation are determined by how well you respond to this situation.

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Until next time!


Amy Drader is a management consultant and credentialed coach with over 20 years’ experience in HR and operations. She knows first-hand the joys and challenges of leading people and is dedicated to helping managers and teams advance their performance. She is the owner of Growth Partners Consulting, a boutique leadership and team development consulting firm that provides customized training and coaching.

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