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:
- When You Think Your Boss Is Incompetent
- After the boss commits even a few enormous blunders, some of us conclude that he or she is just incompetent.
We begin to worry whether our careers are safe, whether the company is safe, or whether to start looking
for another job. Beyond worrying, what else can we do?
- Breaking the Rules
- Many outstanding advances are due to those who broke rules to get things done. And some of those who
break rules get fired or disciplined. When is rule breaking a useful tactic?
- What You See Isn't Always What You Get
- We all engage in interpreting the behavior of others, usually without thinking much about it. Whenever
you notice yourself having a strong reaction to someone's behavior, consider the possibility that your
interpretation has outrun what you actually know.
- Suppressing Dissent: I
- In some groups, disagreeing with the majority, or disagreeing with the Leader, can be a personally expensive
act. Here is Part I of a set of tactics used by Leaders who choose not to tolerate dissent.
- Conversation Despots
- Some people insist that conversations reach their personally favored conclusions, no matter what others
want. Here are some of their tactics.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 28: Four Overlooked Email Risks: II
- Email exchanges are notorious for exposing groups to battles that would never occur in face-to-face conversation. But email has other limitations, less-often discussed, that make managing dialog very difficult. Here's Part II of an exploration of some of those risks. Available here and by RSS on March 28.
- And on April 4: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: III
- People who behave narcissistically tend to regard themselves as special. They systematically place their own interests and welfare ahead of anyone or anything else. In this part of the series we consider how this claimed specialness affects the organization and its people. Available here and by RSS on April 4.
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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.