Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 6, Issue 25;   June 21, 2006: On Organizational Coups d'Etat

On Organizational Coups d'Etat

by

If your boss is truly incompetent, or maybe even evil, organizing a coup d'etat might have crossed your mind. In most cases, it's wise to let it cross on through, all the way. Think of alternative ways out.
A Julius Caesar coin

Julius Caesar came to power in a coup, and left power (and life) the same way. Photo courtesy U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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,
do succeed?
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. Go to top Top  Next issue: Presenting to Persuade  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenaqaLBaXOkSbKsYRxner@ChacpbuXmHDURPmBDbWloCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

Bison on the U.S. National Bison Range in MontanaEmpire Building
Empire builders create bases of power within the larger organization. Typically, they use these domains to advance personal or provincial agendas. What are the characteristics of empires? How can we navigate through or around them?
Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court Stephen G. BreyerWhen You're the Least of the Best: I
The path to the pinnacle of many professions leads through an initiate or intern stage in which the new professional plays a role designed to facilitate learning, especially from those more experienced. For some, this role is frustrating and difficult. Comfort in the role makes learning its lessons easier.
The Panzerkampfwagen VIII Maus, a German World War II super-heavy tankWhy There Are Pet Projects
Pet projects are common in organizations, including organizations with healthy and mature planning processes. They usually consume resources at levels beyond what the organization intends, which raises the question of their genesis: Where do pet projects come from?
Three Card Monte, Jaffa, IsraelFooling Ourselves
Humans have impressive abilities to convince themselves of things that are false. One explanation for this behavior is the theory of cognitive dissonance.
A schematic representation of a MOSFETBottlenecks: II
When some people take on so much work that they become "bottlenecks," they expose the organization to risks. Managing those risks is a first step to ending the bottlenecking pattern.

See also Workplace Politics, Managing Your Boss, Ethics at Work and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

September 11, 2001 attacks in New York CityComing August 23: Look Where You Aren't Looking
Being blindsided by an adverse event could indicate the event's sudden, unexpected development. It can also indicate a failure to anticipate what could have been reasonably anticipated. How can we improve our ability to prepare for adverse events? Available here and by RSS on August 23.
"The Thinker," by Auguste RodinAnd on August 30: They Just Don't Understand
When we cannot resolve an issue in open debate, we sometimes try to explain the obstinacy of others. The explanations we favor can tell us more about ourselves than they do about others. Available here and by RSS on August 30.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbreneMmQJiIJGhUkHMKXner@ChacumpOxbGIPqMcHzFHoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here are some dates for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…

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.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.