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First of all, I want to make it clear that none of this is negatively affecting me or anyone specifically, as far as employment and performance goes.

I'm a software developer in small team. My boss, the person in question, is generally a good person. He's the team leader, the direct manager of the whole team. His role is senior software analyst and he has the experience to back it up. He does about 80% analysis and management, 20% coding. The problem is that when technology is concerned, he will often make up random stuff, often complete nonsense, that sounds good to non-programmers but is obviously incorrect to an experienced programmer. I could understand saying something isn't supported to the business when it would be a huge pain to do, but he does that even when talking between programmers, about basic programming facts. I'm decently experienced so I can tell when he's making things up, but I can tell the other team members aren't experienced enough to notice, or confident enough to question it.

There's roughly 3 "kinds" of things he'll say:

  1. Basic, easily verifiable programming facts; this is often complete nonsense and not just wrong. For example, if we're investigating a bug in C# code where some amount is wrong in a report, he'll declare that it's because some boolean property wasn't initialized and it caused a memory corruption in the network stack. But the property in question is initialized, and if it wasn't, it would have a default value, and the default value would be good, and it's not related to the bug anyway because it's not even in the same project nor it it network related, and the report is executed on a different server. You get the idea.

  2. Saying some authority figure doesn't support a certain feature, or that doing some arbitrary thing isn't legal. Except it is supported, or it is legal (approved with the company lawyer), or the figure of authority as nothing to do with this.

  3. Just straight up saying something is not possible, or declaring that we can't do it, even if we already do it, easily, and it's already deployed in production. Often he'll say we must not do something, and later contradict himself and say we should do it, in the same situation for trivial things, like connecting to a database with read-only account to investigate a bug.

So far, I'm pretty good at working around this one-on-one, but it wastes a lot of time for the rest of the team. It's not too bad when it stays in the team, but it often cause issues when he interact with contractors, suppliers and other external resources. I have no idea how to even bring this up, and with whom. Should I even do anything about this?

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    I don't understand how "none of this is negatively affecting me or anyone specifically" and "it wastes a lot of time for the rest of the team"/"it often cause issues when he interact with contractors" can both be true Oct 3 at 8:20
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    @SomeDude: Since you know the full extent of the issue (or more than what you posted in your question, at least), do you have any idea of why they might be doing this? Is it to "look smart"? Are they gaining something from it? (like refusing to do something or achieving a result they want by confidently throwing around things that to the uninitiated seem like "words of wisdom"?)
    – Bogdan
    Oct 3 at 13:52
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    @mattfreake Fair point, I does sound contradictory reading it again today. I meant it doesn't harm me and my teammates specifically. Any instance of this might waste time but that's as far as it goes.
    – SomeDude
    Oct 3 at 15:15
  • Honestly, just work around it and ignore/sidestep him. Steve Jobs famously did this with one of the Apple system by insisting Apple create their own optical drive, and his engineers ignored him and managed to hide a Japanese engineer in HQ for 6 months to integrate the drive behind Jobs' back. Steve knew he made the wrong decision couple weeks before launch, but his team showed up with a finished integrated product and Steve swore at them with a smile on his face.
    – Nelson
    Oct 3 at 15:55
  • If you "drill down" into a problem (say by pointing out that a property is in fact initialized) does the team leader admit he made a mistake? Or does trying to drill down just make the problem worse?
    – DaveG
    Oct 3 at 16:31
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First of all, I want to make it clear that none of this is negatively affecting me or anyone specifically, as far as employment and performance goes.

There you go - your instincts are sound, trust them.

If it doesn't affect anyone's job or performance, then continue ignoring this behaviour. Your job is to make your boss' job easier - the less they see you as the cause of their professional headaches, the better your chances of earning their goodwill and having a good time at work and progressing professionally.

Perhaps your boss does this to get an ego boost from the admiration of the young naive developers. In such a case, any attempts to make your boss aware of this behaviour will bring up short-term negativity against you (without any surety that the behaviour will change in the long term).

One of the toughest jobs in any relationship - personal or professional - is to learn to work with people as they are and not how you wish they were. So that includes dealing with the warts in their personality too.

Only if the issue does become serious enough (to warrant some action), one approach you can try would be to slowly make him aware of his ignorance. For example, if he says something is not legal, you can send him an email politely pointing out that he "misunderstood" the law (along with proof to back it up). (Ofcourse, you should only do this for big picture items that affect the whole team or company, and not get into the habit of disputing every ignorant nonsense he spouts).

It's not easy to make someone aware of a personality flaw, and that's why it sometimes takes even a therapist a long time to do. Your job will be doubly difficult because someone going to therapy wants to change and has already accepted there is some problem with him / her! Most people don't like their personality flaws bought to their attention - so tread carefully.

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    You're right, I guess I was more annoyed than usual yesterday, reading it again feels more like a rant now... No point in stirring up trouble needlessly.
    – SomeDude
    Oct 3 at 15:25
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    It does affect job performance. It wastes people's time. Don't underestimate the seriousness of that. Oct 3 at 15:48
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    @DJClayworth trying to change your boss wastes even more time (it will never work).
    – Nelson
    Oct 3 at 15:58
  • @Nelson Reading stuff into my comments that I never said. But I've succeeded in making changers in a situation very like this. Oct 3 at 19:03
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Take this up with another leader in the company.

But not with urgency. While this behaviour isn't directly affecting anyone now, it has the potential to affect other people in a very negative way. Your boss may be telling similar untruths to other managers, to customers, or to junior developers who do not have the knowledge to realize how wrong he is. It's best that someone in authority knows about it.

I am assuming that you have already started to correct him when he is wrong. Do it politely and privately - "reply" to his email with a correction, don't "reply all" and include the evidence to back up what you say.

When you bring this up, don't go with the expectation that the behaviour will be stopped immediately or that the boss will be fired. Don't ask for that to happen. It probably won't. But it is something the company should know about. Maybe this tendency, or some other bad tendency, has already been noticed and this extra piece of information is enough for the company to take corrective action. If you go with the attitude not of "we want the boss removed" but "this behaviour causes problems, and even though we can handle it we want you to know" then it shouldn't backfire on you. Make sure you have explicit, accurate and undeniable examples of things he has said and why they are wrong. If you say your piece and nothing comes of it don t press the point.

The person you go to should be someone you already have a good working relationship with, who knows you are trustworthy and have the company's interests at heart, but also has some authority. Your boss's boss is ideal if you have that relationship. But better somebody who knows you than somebody with lots of authority.

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