How to Deal with Imperfect Leaders

imperfect leader

If there’s a common frustration in the workplace it’s this: Leaders who are inherently flawed people.

How is a dedicated employee to cope? Aren’t leaders supposed to be role models? Shouldn’t they have all the answers? How can you do your job well when they fail so miserably at theirs?

If this sounds familiar, rest assured, you’re not alone. According to Inc.com, 3 out of 4 employees report that their boss is the worst and most stressful part of their job.

Obviously, great leaders do exist, but they can be few and far between. If you happen to be struggling with an imperfect manager right now, there is hope for the future. But in the meantime, consider these strategies for coping.

  1. Show Empathy

Leaders are, like all of us, only human. Consequently, they aren’t perfect. Sadly, many professionals are exceptionally hard on leaders. They hold them to extremely high—nearly impossible—standards.

Remember that this lackluster leader has a lot on his or her plate. Leaders, in general, have enormous amounts of pressure, whether or not that’s apparent from the outside looking in. They’re attempting to manage a lot of moving pieces, and (like you) they have an entire personal life to manage as well.

As an employee, you just don’t know what happens behind closed doors. Practice empathy by considering the situation from your leader’s point of view. More than likely, this person knows they aren’t performing up to par. They won’t show it, of course. But that doesn’t mean they are oblivious.

You can always excuse a lack of empathy by saying things like, “Well, they’re paid to deal with the pressure!” But that doesn’t help the situation. Recognize that this person is still human and they are trying their best—even if that’s not very good.

Also read: What Managing Up Really Means and 3 Helpful Techniques

  1. Look for Their Strengths

Everyone, in any position, has a unique set of strengths they bring to the table. Your imperfect leader is no different. He or she may not have all the strengths you would wish for in a leader, but they do have something important.

Find it. Focus on it. Leverage it.

Some leaders are great at big picture idea generation, but thoroughly incompetent with details. Others are exceptionally capable with data and technology but lack when it comes to people. You can’t always have the perfect blend of useful skills.

Recognize where your leader excels and give him or her credit for that. The organization clearly values that strength, so you should too.

  1. Fill Their Gaps

This last part is probably the hardest for most people. As a team member, you have the power to help fill your leader’s gaps. Where he or she is deficient, you can step in. Offer assistance and share your expertise. Provide feedback and guidance in a way that shows you’re supportive of the leader and the team.

This requires a combination of both humility and confidence. You have to be able to set aside titles and help your leader lead. Similarly, your leader has to be open to utilizing his or her team. It’s a two-way road.

No leader is perfect. The best leaders, however, know this. They are willing and able to leverage the people around them. They are interested in self-reflection and personal development. They are able to admit mistakes and grow from them.

Over time, most leaders learn how to do these things, and you may be a witness to the process. Don’t expect it to happen overnight. Give your leaders a little leeway in the meantime.

Also read: So Your Boss is Impossible to Deal With. Now What?

About the Author

Chrissy Scivicque is a career coach, corporate trainer and public speaker who believes work can be a nourishing part of the life experience. Her website, Eat Your Career, is devoted to this mission. Chrissy is currently a contributing career expert for U.S. News & World Report and the author of the book, The Proactive Professional: How to Stop Playing Catch Up and Start Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life!), available on Amazon.