The Office: 3 Worst Types of Bumbling Boss

PHOTO: Will Ferrell as Deangelo Vickers and Steve Carell as Michael Scott in The Office
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Last night, Dunder Mifflin got a new boss, albeit temporarily. As Steve Carell's Michael Scott prepares to leave "The Office" later this month, an equally bumbling interim branch manager, played by funnyman Will Ferrell, has stepped in.

Sure, it's hilarious to watch such workplace buffoonery from the safety of one's living room. But it's no laughing matter when in real life your boss' clueless comments and discombobulated directives make you nuts week after week.

I asked readers to weigh in with their worst bumbling boss tales. Following are three stumbling supervisor archetypes that emerged, with suggestions for dealing with each.

The Dunce

"Fiona," a communications professional who likes her job well enough, works for a fair, kindhearted boss whose professional persona can best be described as inept. (Like all employees interviewed for this column, Fiona didn't want her real name mentioned for fear of hurting her career.)

"My boss can't keep very good track of his employees' assignments," Fiona said. "He once told me, several weeks before one of our clients' events, that we were not helping them with it and I should not go. But five minutes after the event started, he called and asked if I had gone to the event, and was upset with me when he learned I was still sitting at my desk."

But that's just the tip of the incompetence iceberg.

"He sends out communications filled with misspellings, grammatical errors and, sometimes, factual errors," Fiona said.

What's more, she added, "He is so notoriously late to meetings, clients ask before meeting with him, 'Is he coming at 9 a.m. on regular time or 9 a.m. on his own sense of time?'"

How to handle it: When suggesting to such managerial doofuses that there may be room for improvement, diplomacy is key.

Workplace expert Alexandra Levit, author of "They Don't Teach Corporate in College: A Twenty-Something's Guide to the Business World," makes this recommendation:

"Subtly share your own productivity tips and tricks by saying something like, 'I downloaded this great new app that keeps track of meeting times when the participants are in different time zones. Want me to send you the link?'"

Career expert Heather Huhman, founder and president of Come Recommended, a marketing firm for organizations with products targeting job seekers and employers, agreed.

"While this situation may be annoying, helping out your boss could be a win-win in that he or she recognizes you as a go-getter," Huhman said. "If you can anticipate your boss's needs and help him or her with simple [productivity] issues, you might be looking at climbing the corporate ladder quicker than you thought. Just be sure to approach the subject in a way that won't offend him or her."

The Timewaster

"Michael [the fictitious boss on the 'The Office'] looks totally competent compared to my boss," said "Jonah," a government employee who was planning to quit his job when I first spoke with him in March. (Jonah has since turned in his letter of resignation and landed a new position with another employer.)

Among Jonah's gripes about his manager: "He constantly changes missions and taskings so it is impossible to get anything done."

And: "He keeps finished projects in a desk drawer rather than forwarding them to [his own] boss."

"I really did not have patience with someone who is that incompetent," Jonah added. "All of the people on my former team have their resumes out and are looking for other jobs, too, not because they don't like the work that they do, but because of this guy."

How to handle it: Quitting is certainly one option. But in this still-shaky economy, it's not for everyone. For those forced to make the most of a frustrating situation, Levit advised nipping the boss' blundering behavior in the bud.

"Go over the entire project from soup to nuts ahead of time, and get him to sign off on a series of tasks that you can complete on your own," Levit said. "Then just get the work done, interacting with him as minimally as possible so he doesn't have a chance to change direction."

Not sure how to start the conversation? Huhman suggested this opener: "I realize that things can get a bit crazy around here sometimes, but is there a way we can chat about my deadlines before I start working on a project to ensure it aligns with the vision you have?"

"The conversation should also include a promise on your end to ask more questions about the assignment before getting started," Huhman added. "Recognize that this could be a two-way problem."

The Hopelessly Inappropriate

We've all had them: The moody manager who cheerily announces she's in much better spirits now that she's had her weekly colonic. The socially stunted supervisor you've caught clipping his toenails at his desk on multiple occasions, despite the fact that you two share a workspace. The corner office zealot who, mistaking the workplace for a soapbox or pulpit, never misses a chance to email you political or religious missives in an attempt to convert you to her point of view, EEOC regulations be damned.

But for "Alice," who works in advertising, the ultimate Michael Scott moment happened when a loose-lipped leader who tried to joke with her wound up getting a little too up close and personal.

"I was pregnant, maybe four months along, and I was walking down the office hallway with a friend of mine," Alice said. "Two executives at the company were walking behind us, maybe 10 or 15 feet. I was friendly with one of them -- friendly but not friends. So I hear him say, 'Alice, it's a good thing I know you're pregnant. Otherwise, I would think you were getting fat.'"

Needless to say, Alice was not amused.

How to handle it: What should you do if a manager crosses that almighty line of office propriety?

"It's always a tricky situation to correct your boss," said Huhman. "But if it's starting to affect your work, it might be worthwhile to confront the situation politely. If he or she is just too open in conversations with you or you continue to witness awkward behavior, tell him or her that it makes you uncomfortable. I've always been of the opinion that people don't know they're doing something 'wrong' until you tell them. If you're not comfortable speaking with him or her directly, it may be an issue that you can discuss with a trusted mentor at the office to figure out how to approach it."

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Michelle Goodman is a freelance writer and former cubicle dweller. Her books include My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube. Follow her at @anti9to5guide.

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