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 US 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

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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.

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