published July 23, 2018

By Miku Khezri

7 Steps to Take When You’re Smarter Than Your Boss


Like anywhere else in life, there is a hierarchy in the work place— which is necessary to keep things in running order. Typically that hierarchy is based on knowledge and skill set, with those possessing the most knowledge and advanced skill set at the top, more likely, in the form of your boss.

But what happens when you exceed the knowledge, skill set, and job competency of your boss? AKA, what happens when you are smarter than your boss?

First of all, breathe. Then, take these seven steps, as needed.
Here Are the Steps You Need to Take
  1. Don’t just ASSUME that you’re smarter than your boss

    First things first, just because your alma mater may be more prestigious or you possess the ability to perform a certain task faster than your boss, doesn’t necessarily mean you are smarter. However, if you notice that in addition to the aspects mentioned above, you seem to perform your boss’s tasks more efficiently and better overall, there is a good chance, you are more competent and smarter than your boss.
  1. And if it turns out you are, never be cocky

    After realizing that you are indeed ‘smarter than your boss,’ you might want to give yourself a heavy pat on the back. You might also be confused, even frustrated that you’re taking direction from someone that you deem less qualified than yourself, however, NEVER be cocky. I repeat, never be cocky. Because the reality is, even if you are more qualified, at the end of the day, your boss is still your boss and possesses the powers of one. In other words, whether or not you keep or lose your job is in your own two hands.
  1. Always be helpful

    So if you cannot gloat and be cocky about this newfound fact (at least not publically or anywhere near the workplace), what can you do? Be helpful. If you are indeed more competent at your boss’s job than your boss is, help your boss out. Clearly, he/she needs it. Do whatever you can to get the tasks at hand completed correctly. If you find that your boss is prone to making errors, correct him/her in a way that is not offensive, but rather offer the correction as an alternative to whatever the mistake made was. The key is to remain tactful.
  1. Keep detailed records of the tasks you accomplish

    Because your boss might be prone to making errors regularly, it is a good idea to keep record of what exactly you have done and are doing at work. In the case that your boss is inept AND unfair, your boss may blame his/her shortcomings on you. However with proper documentation, most times, false accusations can be proven invalid and laid to rest.
  1. Find the silver lining and takeaway

    However impossible it may seem, there is always a lesson or a silver lining that can be taken away from a particular situation. Maybe your boss is amazing with personal relations, but just cannot perform technical tasks to save his/her life. Maybe it’s the opposite and your boss can get in all reports into the computer system in record time, but when it comes to customers, your boss tends to offend them. Or maybe it’s neither; maybe every task that needs to be done is better off done by you, the employee who works under your “not-so-bright” boss. Whatever the case, at the least, you can use this as a learning curve of what NOT to do at your job currently and in future job endeavors.
  1. If it’s really bad, reach out to HR

    If it’s really bad, you might have to reach out to the good old Human Resources department. Really bad meaning, you and your boss are getting into actual fights, your boss is harassing you or constantly berating you, to the point where there is no civil way to handle the situation, and conditions are so bad between the both of you guys that it is impossible to get any type of work done.

    If it comes down to the point that your relationship with your boss in no longer just frustrating, but toxic, refer back to step #4—in addition to keeping record of the exact tasks you accomplish on a daily basis, keep record of all “incidents” that happen between you and your boss. HR is more likely to seriously take into account an employee complaint if there is sufficient evidence and enough of it, to prove that your complaint is true.

    In the case of an employee of lower rank filing a complaint against someone of a higher rank and power, it is crucial to be overly prepared because you are already starting at a disadvantage (being at a lower rank than your boss) and it is harder for HR to overrule those in higher positions of power with those in lower positions of power.
  1. If nothing improves, find another job

    You have had multiple meetings with your boss with no follow-up improvements; you’ve tried politely informing your boss of “better” ways to accomplish tasks; you reached out to HR with a plethora of evidence proving that your boss is not only incompetent, but impossible to work with when situations get out of hand, and still NOTHING has changed.

    Sometimes, there is only so much that can be done in a particular situation, and you have to accept that some things are out of your control. If you feel like you exhausted all of the other options, the seventh and final step is to find another job. Although this is not ideal or convenient, it is necessary. I’m not saying that you should quit on the spot, but start looking elsewhere or even explore the idea of transferring to a different department within your company. In the meantime, continue showing up for work, get your job done the best you can, and try to limit face time, as much as possible, with your boss.
The Takeaway

Most of the time, a hierarchy in the workplace is easier to define than anywhere else because usually, workplace hierarchy is based on technical principles. However, if you find yourself in the position of being “smarter than your boss,” this poses some complications. Ideally, these complications can be solved and don’t have to go beyond step #5. Other times, there’s no such luck. No matter how the situation transpires, it is important to fully grasp step #5 because there will always be important lessons that can be learned that will help you in your career—whether you find yourself in a similar situation, or you become the boss of your own company one day, and evaluate the should/should not’s of your position. Either way, you will be much better equipped as an employee and future boss for it!

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