• Execs can be clueless for a bunch of reasons
  • Work through their stupidity & find opportunities
  • Reframe your mindset and see the positives
His recommendations are so illogical. There’s no way they would work.

You know all the details of this project inside and out. And, you have a firm grasp of what changes and/or improvements need to be made.

And yet, your boss’s boss’s boss is making decisions from his corner office based upon how things were 20 years ago or what his “gut” (i.e. beer belly) tells him.

Hello?! The world is a lot different now!

As he drones on about how it should be done, you keep your mouth shut, nod and think to yourself, “You’re so fucking clueless. How in the world did you become an executive?”

Here’s the analogy.

The end goal is a spaghetti and meatball dinner.

The recipe calls for pasta, sauce and frozen meatballs. The process is to boil water, cook the pasta, warm the sauce and meatballs - done.

His recommendation is to start mixing concrete with emoticons while singing Elvis Presley songs.

WTF, right?

Maybe, you’re not seeing something that he sees. So, for a few minutes, you start second-guessing yourself. But, you snap back to reality and declare to yourself that he’s so out of touch with what’s really happening.

How is it that he’s an executive that’s leading the business and you’re in a lowly position running the whole damn show?

Good question - we’re gonna try to explain it here.

Why Some Executives Are Just Plain Stupid

In today’s working world, there are superstar MVPs, useless slackers and everything in between. And this is at all levels from the entry-level grocery bagger to a Fortune 500 CEO.

The main thing is that the spectrum of talent and skills varies more widely at the lower levels and then, narrows as you move up in the organization - most of the time.

However, in larger corporations, where there’s a lot of executives, the spread remains wide because there are more people. And in these large organizations, it’s much easier for a below average executive to get by than in smaller more nimble ones where their impact (or lack thereof) can be quickly and clearly seen by all.

It’s in these large organizations where you’ll have the greatest probability of running into executives that are truly out of touch with reality.

And when you do, they’re clueless because of one or a combination of these reasons.

1) They Don’t Listen To Working Level Employees

You’ve heard of the business cliche “ivory tower” right?

It’s a metaphorical place where self-absorbed executives will disconnect themselves from the rest of the world and do their own thing with a total lack of concern, interest or knowledge about real-world issues.

They’re so out of touch because they’re not participating in or listening to what’s actually happening at the working levels.

It’s the executive that never acknowledges the feedback and perspective of the project managers or in rare cases that they do, it’s almost always disqualified.

They have no idea of what and how things are actually taking place. And, when they’re not listening to those that are in direct contact with the project, they lose touch of reality.

2) They’re Not Close To The Action 

Some of the most successful military generals got to their position by proving their knowledge, effectiveness and leadership out in the battlefield, not from behind a desk.

They are “in the trenches” right alongside the infantry, seeing, smelling, feeling, hearing all the things that are happening at the front of the battle lines.

These are the qualities that make for a successful general and leader. They have “ground truth” and are experiencing things first hand with their own eyes and ears and not through a field report.

So, it’s no surprise why their activities are often used as business cliches:

“Out in the battlefield”

“In the trenches”

“On the front lines”

The executives that have never been on a sales call, visited the warehouse operations, used the product or service, experienced the process, etc. are the ones that are far removed from the action, and thus, clueless.

3) They Are Incompetent & Unqualified

Some folks just aren’t cut out to be executives - and that’s okay. In fact, a lot of us prefer to be responsible for our own work and not for others.

However, there are many instances when a person is placed into executive-level positions when it’s really not a good fit.

In rapidly growing startups, it’s common for younger staff members to be promoted quickly to the upper ranks before they’ve gained enough experience. When this happens, it usually ends in a mess.

It’s like having a 7-year old lego-building kid construct a new home.

Other situations that may put incompetent or unqualified people in executive ranks include promoting based upon years of service (seniority) or nepotism (favoritism).

No matter what path, the person up there doesn’t belong there.

4) They Are Disengaged & Don’t Care

Some execs simply don’t give a rat’s ass about their work or contributions to the group.

It could be that they’ve been rotated into an executive position covering an aspect of the business that doesn’t interest them and they’re just biding their time until they get moved to another position.

Or, it could be that they’re on their way out with only a few years until retirement. They don’t want or need to push hard anymore. They could care less. They’re just counting down the days.

Whatever the reason may be, they’re not actively involved in the business and are just passively existing in their office.

5) They Are New To The Role

Think back to when you started a new job at a new company. Everything had to be learned from scratch. You were starting from a blank slate.

Who should you go to for this and that?

What’s the process for requesting that thing?

How do you fill out the table?

When do you submit the report?

Why is there a secondary form?

You were pretty clueless. And it’s no different for an executive that’s new to the role, whether they were hired in or promoted from within.

All new positions have a learning curve to get through.

And having a clueless executive in this kind of scenario is the best kind because it’s only temporary (hopefully).

It’s an opportunity for you to showcase your knowledge and expertise by easing and supporting their learning and knowledge building.

Tips For Working With Clueless Executives

You can’t choose who your parents are. Your family is what you’re born into.

It’s a similar situation in work life - you can’t choose who you report to. It’s set up for you. You slot into a spot within the organization.

Sometimes, it’s a great fit and in other situations, it’s terrible.

Often times, you feel like you’re reporting to several bosses. And, you’re struggling with how to handle multiple bosses and not lose your shit.

When you’re in a position where you have to work with an executive that doesn’t know his ass from his elbow, it can be a frustrating experience. But, you’ve gotta work with the cards you’ve been dealt.

So, here are some helpful tips to get you through the facepalm moments.

1) Keep Your Emotions In Check

It’s very easy to “lose it” when someone is testing your patience, repetitively asking the same questions, annoying the shit out of you and generally pissing you off.

A lot of us go through this - it’s called parenting young kids.

But unlike dealing with kids, you can’t yell at an executive - unless you want to get your ass canned.

So, when things are pissing you off, do your best to stay calm in the moment and be observant of what’s happening around you.

Then, when you have a free moment, go unleash inside the car, vent to your work BFF over lunch or in a conference room or write it out on a piece of paper and then shred it.

Do whatever you need to do to get it out of your system. It’s important that you do this so that you can mentally disconnect from work at the end of the day.

2) Analyze The Situation

Is your executive truly clueless or are there other factors at play?

It may not be what you think.

Like we mentioned earlier, they could be in a totally new role coming from a different functional area of the company or even from a different industry. Or more simply, it could be a new project that they’re not familiar with.

So, don’t jump to conclusions right away - go beyond the surface level and dig around and get more details.

3) See Your Support As An Opportunity

Building upon the previous point above, once you have a better idea of the situation, think about how you can spin it (or reframe it in your head) to benefit you and your career.

If the executive isn’t an ego-maniac and gives credit where it’s due, then use every opportunity to help him or her to learn and gain more knowledge. They’ll quickly recognize your expertise and skills and will share that positive opinion with their executive level peers.

It could be an opportunity for you to get on their good side and build a positive personal brand at the executive levels.

4) Email Documentation

There’s only one thing worse than not getting credit for kick-ass work that you’ve completed. It’s getting blamed for a fuck-up that you weren’t responsible for.

In either case, email documentation is your best friend.

When you put it on an email and copy the appropriate folks (not spamming the entire company), you’re effectively putting it on the record.

This can be for showcasing your fantastic results or doing some strategic “cover your ass” (CYA) documentation for something you think may be a potential disaster.

Don’t call out an executive on their direction or decision via a group email - that’s a career killing move. Instead, acknowledge their position and then offer up your ideas as alternative options.

5) Keep Your Other Work Separate

Going a step further beyond email documentation, try to keep your work separate from the executive as best as possible.

This will be difficult to do especially if you’re supporting him/her on a project or assignment. Your work and contributions will be intermingled with their stuff. So, that work will be mixed.

However, for all of your other projects and tasks, keep it out of the eyes and hands of Mr. Brainless. This will minimize the chances of them tarnishing your progress or results.

6) Have Witnesses During Interactions

In most cases, when you’re meeting with an executive, there’s usually others in the meeting too. It’s rare for staff level employees to meet one-on-one with an exec.

It can be a great thing if the exec is a true leader and knows their shit. In these instances, you have opportunities to learn from him or her as well as prove your worth.

However, in cases where the exec is as dumb as a box of rocks, you want to have your manager or other key stakeholders on the project with you during the meetings.

They will serve as eyewitnesses for the babbling nonsense that will come out of their mouth.

7) Know When To Move On

We all have a breaking point for all the different struggles in life. Some have very high points while others have low ones. It all depends on the kind of challenge and our tolerance levels.

When you’re having to deal with a dumb executive day-in and day-out for prolonged periods, it can be mentally draining. Many of us might not be able to last very long.

If the interaction is only every so often and not constant, then it’s much easier to handle and work through.

If you find yourself dealing with a brainless executive for months on end (or worse, years), then it’s time to plan for an internal transfer to another department/group or seek other opportunities outside of the company.

Don’t allow them to limit your potential for growth. Seek opportunities to improve and move up or out.

Dumb Executives Are Frustrating But Tolerable

The sheer amount of stupidity at some executive levels always surprises us.

After all, the working world and it’s system of vetting and constantly measuring executive skill sets, capabilities and contributions should weed out the dumb ones, right?

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.

No system is perfect and there will always be a few incompetent and/or unqualified people that end up in the executive ranks. And, you will eventually have to interact with them at some point.

Working with a clueless executive is frustrating as hell but there are upsides.

It could be an opportunity for you to get on their good side, to navigate office politics at the executive levels and to expand your reach higher in the organization.

And, while they may be dumb, at least they’re not abusive - that’s a whole different world of pain and suffering that nobody should ever go through. Dealing with assholes is far worse than dealing with stupidity.

Really, it’s not as bad as you think.

For some of you, it’s a phase that will eventually pass. So, work your way through it. For others, it could be a hidden opportunity to up your cred and boost your career.

Stay focused and you will win out in the end, no matter what your current situation may be. Trust us.

Feel Better,

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