Working for an incompetent dolt is both frustrating and career-dangerous. But attempting a coup d'etat — usually by confronting your boss's boss with a list of grievances — is probably worse. Here's why.
- If your boss really is a dolt, look above
- True incompetence is obvious to all, including your boss's boss. When people have been in place for some time, something is likely keeping them there. Chances are that the bosses of incompetent bosses are either content with incompetence, sometimes for strategic reasons, or incompetent themselves. Any coup that depends for success on decisive action by the boss's boss is likely to fail.
- If you fail, you pay
- If you take action, and it fails, expect retribution in the form of anything from undesirable assignments to termination. Is the risk really worth it? Wouldn't it be better to just move on to a new position? And there's also this: retribution can come your way even if you succeed.
- It really isn't in your job description
- Your job description probably doesn't include formulating corrective action for performance issues for people you don't even supervise. When you find yourself taking actions that don't fit your job responsibilities, you're taking risks that probably won't pay off.
- What you can do to others can be done to you
- Do you want to stay
in an organization where
coups, legitimate or not,
- Even if you succeed, you've got a problem, because you're now working in an organization where coups can be successful. Everyone will understand that, including the people you supervise. That isn't bad in itself, until you realize that not everyone tells the truth all the time, and not every coup will be truly "justified." Do you want to stay in an organization where coups, legitimate or not, do succeed?
There are two exceptions that I believe might justify action.
- Legal liability for you and possibly for the organization
- If doing nothing exposes you (and possibly the organization) to legal liability, and especially to criminal liability, seek the advice of an attorney. If your concerns are real, you'll probably be advised to express them in writing to your boss's boss, and you might even be advised to resign as well.
- Ethical violations
- Ethical concerns are similar to legal issues, but generally the ethical constraint is tighter than the legal constraint. Consult an ethicist or coach. Recognize that while inaction doesn't necessarily expose you to legal consequences, it could nonetheless end your career due to licensing or certification consequences. And just as with legal liability, registering ethical concerns has more impact when accompanied by resignation.
If you're even thinking about a coup, you're probably pretty unhappy where you are. Take a look outside the organization. Can you find a thrilling and rewarding position elsewhere? It's a big world out there — take another look. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- Nasty Questions: II
- In meetings, telemeetings, and email we sometimes ask questions that aren't intended to elicit information.
Rather, they're indirect attacks intended to advance the questioner's political agenda. Here's part
two of a catalog of some favorite tactics.
- Responding to Threats: I
- Threats are one form of communication common to many organizational cultures, especially as pressure
mounts. Understanding the varieties of threats can be helpful in determining a response that fits for you.
- The Power and Hazards of Anecdotes: I
- Anecdotes are short stories — sometimes just a single sentence. They're powerful tools of persuasion,
but they can also be dangerous, to both anecdote tellers and anecdote listeners.
- When the Answer Isn't the Point: II
- Sometimes, when we ask questions, we're more interested in eliciting behavior from the person questioned,
rather than answers. Here's Part II of a set of techniques questioners use when the answer to the question
wasn't the point of asking.
- Suppressing Dissent: II
- Disagreeing with the majority in a meeting, or in some cases, merely disagreeing with the Leader, can
lead to isolation and other personal difficulties. Here is Part II of a set of tactics used by Leaders
who choose not to tolerate differences of opinion, emphasizing the meeting context.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 25: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VI
- Narcissistic behavior at work distorts decisions, disrupts relationships, and generates toxic conflict. These consequences limit the ability of the organization to achieve its goals. In this part of our series we examine the effects of exploiting others for personal ends. Available here and by RSS on April 25.
- And on May 2: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VII
- Narcissistic behavior at work prevents trusting relationships from developing. It also disrupts existing relationships, and generates toxic conflict. One class of behaviors that's especially threatening to relationships is disregard for the feelings of others. In this part of our series we examine the effects of that disregard. Available here and by RSS on May 2.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.