Acting Presidential—a term not heard much these days—gives the impression of a confident leader, using power in a bold manner with great results. Leadership is about being in charge, respected, competent.
Unfortunately for many people in responsibility, “Acting” is as far as it gets. These people crave the trappings of power– the compensation, the status, the perks–but not the difficult decisions, responsibilities or pressure. When it comes time to actually do the job, they are somewhere else.
If these people remain in their position long enough, the consequences of incompetence catch up. There is no place to hide either for them, or for the people working with them.
There is much information about with the causes of managerial incompetence (i.e. deficient skills, lack of effort, personal insecurities etc.) That information often does not help. Sometimes, it is really not about trying to address the problems of these people, but about trying to do the job as best as possible.
The first step is to recognize incompetence early. Incompetent managers have developed other skills that have allowed them to survive and prosper. This early recognition can enable people to take the next steps to minimize the effects on project as well as the effect on reputations when the consequences of incompetence hit.
Here are some behaviors to help identify these managers early:
Decisions about even minor issues are difficult to get.
Managers are paid to make decisions. The first warning sign is if it is difficult to get a decision from the manager. When an unpopular decision is made, passing the responsibility away from himself, is another early indication that this person is not competent.
Success is declared early and by proclamation.
Credit is taken at the first successful milestone and extrapolated to the end of the project. They then move on to a new area before the full consequences of the work unfold. Others inherit the mess later. Check with the people in these earlier projects and see what was left behind.
Alternate perspectives are not fairly considered.
Responses are dogmatic and serve to end the discussion. Criticism is often harsh. The criticism often degenerates into a personal attack, particularly when the other person is not in the room.
There is advance planning for distributing blame for set-backs.
A particularly telling clue is that other people are positioned to take the blame, even before the project fails. (This is forward looking management as viewed by the incompetent.)
Perks are disproportionately sought.
In some cases, acquiring perks take up more effort than the core business.
Speaks differently to subordinates, peers and supervisors.
The difference is in both tone and content.
Encourages secrecy, particularly with like-minded cronies.
This withholding of information allows the manager to distort the situation.
Backstabbing is not quite the same as incompetence, although some of the behaviors are similar. Related points can be found in Backstabbing 101.