Manners & Misdemeanors

What to Do When You're Actually Smarter Than Your Boss

Frustrated because you feel like you know more?

A good leader is someone you look up to, someone to learn from, and someone you hope you can be like later on in life. They often act as mentors, training and building you up by helping you become the best version of yourself career-wise.

But what if your boss isn't a leader, much less a mentor? What if you realize one day that you're actually smarter than your direct manager?

The situation can be frustrating, especially if the issue is quite obvious not just to you, but to your colleagues as well. How do you handle being brainier than the person you're reporting to, especially if it's gnawing at you that they are earning more than you are? 

1. Take a step back.

First and foremost, there's a reason why your supervisor is your supervisor. It can be a mix of years of tenure, experience, networking, and job know-how that only comes with staying in the same company for a long time. You may be technically smarter than your boss, but you should also look at it at another angle—what can he or she do that you can't? You may be surprised by the answer.


2. Don't be arrogant.

Proving that you're smarter than your boss doesn't give you the license to be a braggart. If your boss is a real leader, then they already know your skillset if they decided to hire you. That being said, your job is to help streamline the team with what you know, and a good manager, even without the technical know-how you possess, will be able to gear you towards that.

3. Don't bad-mouth your boss.

Don't come from a place of resentment, and don't destroy another person's reputation just because you feel like you deserve to be the boss more than the current one. Doing so only reflects poorly on your character.

4. Work with your boss.

You have a job to do, so give your best. (You applied for it, after all.) Have a mindset that puts your team's goals first instead of complaining about how your boss isn't as smart as you are. "See yourself as a complement," says an article from Harvard Business Review Ascend. "Don’t get caught up in ruminating about who should have what job. You’re better off focusing on your responsibilities." Don't worry, your dream of becoming a manager will come if you keep on doing your job well.


Pro tip: It's one thing to help out, but it's another when your boss steals your ideas and takes credit for them—and that's something you shouldn't stand for. Here are things you can do if you find yourself in such a situation.

5. Look for lessons your boss can actually teach you.

He or she may not be the ideal mentor, but your situation with them can actually teach you a lot about leadership, patience, kindness, humility, and respect. Act with dignity. If you're really good at what you do, it'll show.

But what if your boss is really incompetent?

This happens more often than you think. Incompetency can demotivate a good employee, especially if the entire team suffers issues that are avoidable because of it; however, you still have to play your cards right. Fortune 500 HR SVP notes in an article on Forbes, "You can be as smart as you want to be at work, but the key is to line up with your boss and their goals rather than making an enemy out of them."


Be nice, but don't be a doormat. If your incompetent boss also has a nasty attitude, then you (and your colleagues) may want to consider your options. Do you think it's still worth staying in your current company? Would you leave a job you're doing well in because of your direct supervisor? Or can you still salvage the situation because you know your higher-ups and your HR team will listen to your issues?

The point is, while you're finding remedies, keep on doing your job well, and play smart. At some point, you'll find a solution, but if you can't fix the problem (or your boss), then at least always be the bigger person before you leave.

*This story originally appeared on

*Minor edits have been made by the editors

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Charlene J. Owen of
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