If you've ever had a boss who was truly inept--not the kind of inept where you hang up on people because you don't understand how the office phones work, but truly unable to do their job--you know what a frustrating experience it is.
If you're like most people in that situation, you ended up spending much of your day covering the boss's tracks, doing the things they couldn't, fixing their mistakes (and sometimes covering up for them). And you probably went through a lot of resentment and anger--perfectly understandable for someone who's trying to do their own job and their boss's, while the boss draws a big paycheck and keeps going.
If you're in that situation now, you really know how rough it can be. But that doesn't mean there's nothing you can do. Here are some ideas to help you deal with being smarter than your boss:
1. Never ever badmouth or gossip about your boss. Never say a bad work or talk behind their back. No matter how unqualified your boss is, complaining about it to others reflects badly on you--and it can interfere with your ability to advance in your career (or even transfer to another department to escape). Badmouthing and gossip are bad form, always.
2. Be as useful as possible. Make yourself useful to your boss--and your team--by taking on what you can. Look for places where their points of weakness match your strengths, and focus yourself as much as possible in that area. Being useful is a great way to commend yourself to your boss, and to be noticed by those who are higher up.
3. Be positive, not resentful. Try to find the silver lining and do what you can to learn as much as you can from the experience. Think about the opportunities for growth and visibility you're gaining.
4. Work with them, not against them. If you can concentrate on finding ways to work with your boss, not against them, things will go much more smoothly. Take a leadership role where you can--it will help you prepare for the day when you're running the show.
5. Never disagree publicly. Don't contradict or embarrass your boss in front of others. When you disagree or point out a problem, do it privately and with respect.
6. Don't take it personally. This is a situation that happens all the time, and it's not about you. Chances are that everyone is wondering how this person got to be the boss, but that's not your concern. You can waste your energy complaining about it, or find a way to advance your own goals.
7. Be respectful in communication. Whether you're writing or speaking, don't use any language or tone with your boss--or, for that matter, with anyone--that can come across as smug or superior or belittling. It may be a challenge if that's how you're feeling, but keep it to yourself.
8. Focus on advancing your own career rather than bringing someone else down. Look for ways you can advance your own career instead of hoping for opportunities to point out your boss' shortcomings. Take the high road.
9. Don't complain. You probably want to, and you may have plenty of reason. But don't go above your boss' head to complain. It may or may not help with the problem, but it will almost certainly hurt your own reputation. The one exception: if there's a legal, ethical or safety issue at stake, you may need to report it. In that case, find out about whistleblower laws and any other protection that may apply.
10. Start looking for another job. if you are doing all of this and it's still taking a toll on you, it's time to start looking for a job find a company where there is better opportunity for you and for you to advance.
It's never fun to work for a bad boss. But like most things, it does have a silver lining. You're in a great position to build and demonstrate your own abilities, along with your problem-solving and people skills. If nothing else, someday it will turn into a great story you can tell.