Solution Saturday: My Boss is a Terrible Leader

Hi Dan,

I’ve been visiting, enjoying, and learning from your blog for few months now. Thank you for all the insight and wisdom you share on a daily basis!

I can’t help but compare so many of your posts to my own boss. He’s good at getting stuff done, but a terrible leader – practically non-existent.

As someone who has no leadership roles in my company, how can I 1.) help my boss to be a better leader, when I have very little time with him, and 2.) practice being a leader myself, when I have no one to lead?


Leader Needer 🙂

Dear Leader Needer,

Thank you for your encouraging comments and desire to make a difference.

Laurence Peter’s book, “The Peter Principle,” is the first thing that comes to mind. People are promoted to their level of incompetence. A Doer, for example, is good at getting stuff done. He earns a leadership position, but doesn’t know how to delegate or communicate.

The Peter Principle comes into effect when the best salesperson is promoted to Sales Manager. She languishes in her new role. She reached her level of incompetence.

I don’t know if your boss is incompetent or not. Peter’s book came to mind. I thought I’d share it.

The first thing:

How to help your boss be a better leader? Be a better follower.

Jimmy Collins’ book, “Creative Followership,” might be useful. Also, here’s a link to an article I wrote, after my conversation with Jimmy, the former President of Chick-fil-A.

3 general suggestions:

#1. Development:

Focus on developing yourself.

  1. What would you do differently?
  2. How would you handle his role?
  3. Take every opportunity to attend seminars or courses.
  4. Read.
  5. Try stuff. Step out and make a small difference. Don’t wait to be asked. Do it.

Tip: Study followership.

#2. Character:

A lousy boss is a character-building opportunity (Jimmy Collins). What character qualities are most essential to success in your current situation? Humility, drive, compassion, optimism? How might you put these qualities into practice? 

Make a short list of relevant character qualities. Practice behaviors that express who you aspire to become.

#3. Shine:

The worst thing you can do is use a bad boss as your excuse for poor performance.

  1. How might you shine?
  2. How might you help your boss shine? Jimmy suggests doing what your boss doesn’t like to do and doing what your boss isn’t good at.

3 specific suggestions:

#1. Don’t give your boss feedback on his poor performance.

You said you have very little time with your boss. You don’t have the “right of relationship.” Effective feedback requires trusting relationship. Here’s an alternative.

Suppose your boss is a terrible decision-maker. Present a situation that needs a decision and provide possible solutions. For example, “I think we need a decision on XYZ project. Here are a couple options. I think option A might work. What do you think?”

#2. Lead yourself.

Define self-leadership as expecting more from yourself than you expect from others.

Self-leadership suggests that if you expect others to be proactive, be proactive yourself. If you expect others to communicate often, be a communicator.

Leading yourself also means taking every opportunity to develop yourself. (#1. above.) I can’t emphasize this enough. Develop qualities that advance your organization, boss, and your career.

#3. Define leadership as influence.

Everyone influences others. You lead, even if you don’t have a title.

How are you impacting people and environments? Are people energized when you interact with them, or drained? How are you working to make things better without being asked?

This person won’t be the last lousy boss you have. But I believe your passion for success will serve you well.

I hope you have the opportunity to become the boss you wish you had.

You have my best,


What suggestions do you have for “Leader Needer”?

*I suspend my 300 word limit on Solution Saturday.