Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 10, Issue 16;   April 21, 2010: How to Undermine Your Subordinates

How to Undermine Your Subordinates

by

People write to me occasionally that their bosses undermine them, but I know there are bosses who want to do more undermining than they are already doing. So here are some tips for bosses aspiring to sink even lower.
A section of the walls of Conwy Castle showing a battered plinth

A section of the walls of Conwy Castle showing, in the foreground, a battered plinth. A plinth is a base course of stones or brick in a foundation. A battered plinth is a plinth with an upward slope receding towards the center of its wall. Battered plinths served multiple purposes. In some cases, though not at this particular point, they degraded the effectiveness of battering rams by causing the rams to deflect upward. Battered plinths also provided a ricochet surface, causing missiles dropped from above to deflect horizontally and strike attackers and their siege machines. But most important, battered plinths increase wall stability and enhance their resistance to undermining attempts by attackers.

Undermining subordinates is usually rather easy to do, until your subordinates recognize the pattern. Once they do, they build the equivalent of battered plinths. For instance, secret leaders might take it upon themselves to announce their appointments. Their peers, knowing that the boss tends to appoint secret leaders, are more kindly disposed to such behavior, which might otherwise be viewed as usurpation of the boss's prerogatives. Or knowing that the boss tends to dawdle when asked for approvals, the subordinates might counter by asking for approvals far earlier than they would with a less undermining boss. For every measure the boss elects to use, there is a countermeasure. Photo by David Benbennick.

Undermining one's own subordinates might seem at first to be a dumb thing to do. Well, it is. But that doesn't stop people from wanting to do it even more effectively. Here's a collection of techniques for undermining your subordinates. If these seem like common sense to you, you probably need professional help.

Hijack meetings
"Sit in," unexpectedly if possible, on meetings usually conducted by subordinates. About one-third of the way through, make a very-important-sounding pronouncement that lets you hijack the meeting for whatever time remains.
Conduct surprise skip-level interviews
Drop in unannounced on your subordinate's subordinates. Ask probing questions that suggest you have doubts about your subordinate's performance. Example: "What's the real scoop on this project?"
Put two people in charge of the same thing
Make them co-leaders of something that's in such disarray that only a single, strong leader could ever prevent the looming failure.
Re-delegate
Delegate something to A, then re-delegate it to B, without telling A that you re-delegated it. For extra zing, don't reveal to B that you had previously delegated it to A.
Un-delegate
Delegate something to someone, then un-delegate it, but don't explain why. Let everybody think that the un-delegatee must have messed up, but never say why or how. They'll imagine things far worse than anything you could possibly think of.
Designate a secret leader
Tell someone they're responsible for leading something, but don't tell anybody else. If somebody else asks you to confirm that the designated leader is actually the leader, mumble something incoherent or at least ambiguous.
Blame people one at a time for failures
Never hold a team responsible for failure, because they'll just support each other, mitigating any guilt or shame. Make sure you single out just one person. Shame is more intense when borne alone.
Humiliate publicly
Public humiliation is always effective, but don't overuse it. Use sparingly for maximum sting.
Insist on the final say in hiring
If a subordinate If these seem like
common sense to you,
you probably need
professional help
is hiring, insist on interviewing all candidates. Also insist on final approval. And make sure that everyone knows this is your policy. You don't want anyone getting a sense of autonomy, because autonomy is good for self-esteem.
Override decisions
Every now and then, override a subordinate's decision. Naturally, wait until after the decision has been publicly announced.
Make people wait for approvals
Take your own sweet time when someone needs your approval for something. When you finally do approve, they'll really appreciate it. Oh, and turn something down occasionally. You don't want to be seen as a rubber stamp. Practice these words: "I think we need to re-think this one."

If your boss uses any of these with regularity, you probably want to read my article, "How to Undermine Your Boss." When I write it, I'll let you know. Go to top Top  Next issue: Project Improvisation and Risk Management  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenxJPuJWczgHYQqXbCner@ChaceNKzJhGmtAfcsskBoCanyon.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:

The Bill of RightsEthical Influence: Part I
Influencing others can be difficult. Even more difficult is defining a set of approaches to influencing that almost all of us consider ethical. Here's a framework that makes a good starting point.
A collared lizardHow to Avoid a Layoff: Your Situation
These are troubled economic times. Layoffs are becoming increasingly common. Here are some tips for positioning yourself in the organization to reduce the chances that you will be laid off.
A sea otter and pupPower, Authority, and Influence: A Systems View
Power, Authority, and Influence are often understood as personal attributes. To fully grasp how they function in organizations, we must adopt a systems view.
David Addington, John Yoo, and Chris Schroeder testify before the U.S. House Judiciary CommitteeKinds of Organizational Authority: the Formal
A clear understanding of Power, Authority, and Influence depends on familiarity with the kinds of authority found in organizations. Here's Part I of a little catalog of authority classes.
A forest fireCultural Indicators of Political Risk
Because of fire risk, hiking in dry forests during dry seasons can be dangerous. In the forest, we stay safe from fire if we attend to the indicators of fire risk. In the workplace, do you know the indicators of political risk?

See also Workplace Politics and Managing Your Boss for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Balancing talk time and the value of the contributionComing March 29: Virtual Blowhards
Controlling meeting blowhards is difficult enough in face-to-face meetings, but virtual meetings present next-level problems, because techniques that work face-to-face are unavailable. Here are eight tactics for controlling virtual blowhards. Available here and by RSS on March 29.
kudzu enveloping a Mississippi landscapeAnd on April 5: Listening to Ramblers
Ramblers are people who can't get to the point. They ramble, they get lost in detail, and listeners can't follow their logic, if there is any. How can you deal with ramblers while maintaining civility and decorum? Available here and by RSS on April 5.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenxcTeWtFWDsFSyOQlner@ChacMJJZyZMuKgWSfnOjoCanyon.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

Changing How We Change: The Essence of Agility
MasteChanging How We Change: The Essence of Agilityry of the ability to adapt to unpredictable and changing circumstances is one way of understanding the success of Agile methodologies for product development. Applying the principles of Change Mastery, we can provide the analogous benefits in a larger arena. By exploring strategies and tactics for enhancing both the resilience and adaptability of projects and portfolios, we show why agile methodologies are so powerful, and how to extend them beyond product development to efforts of all kinds. Read more about this program. Here are some upcoming dates for this program:

Conflict Resolution Skills for Leaders
ConflConflict Resolution Skills for Leadersict is inherent in collaborative work. When conflict is constructive, it produces better outcomes. When it's destructive, it can be an insurmountable obstacle to success. In this program, we explore the connections between the outcomes of collaboration and conflict in both of its forms. And we emphasize the skills needed most by leaders. The leader's task is to manage conflict so as to ensure that the group achieves its objective with its capacity to collaborate intact, or even enhanced. Rick Brenner shows team leaders and team sponsors the techniques they need to manage team conflict for relationship safety and better outcomes. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Influencing Outcomes Without Authority
Your Influencing Outcomes Without Authorityability to influence others — whether upward, downward, laterally, or within a team — always depends on both the quality of your relationships with the people you influence, and on your perception and their perception of your personal power. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you the techniques for making things happen not by using formal organizational power, but by using informal, personal power. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Strategies for Leading Teams in Hard Times
When Strategies for Leading Teams in Hard Timesa project team is on task, the contributions of leaders are important, and little noticed. Sometimes the team encounters unexpected difficulty, or requirements change, or budgets are reduced, or any of a number of other things might happen. In these cases, the leader must make or facilitate decisions about how to respond or how to revise the plan. We get through it somehow. Hard times are something else altogether. Despondency, disillusionment, resource shortages, unexpected and severe failure of the plan, and toxic conflict can erode morale. How can leaders deal with such situations? Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Strategies for Technical Debt: A Workshop for Enterprise Leaders
TechnTechnical Debt Management for Enterprise Leadersical debt is more than mere IT jargon. It's a metaphor that refers to the accumulation of technical artifacts that really ought to be retired, replaced, rewritten, re-implemented, or, if absent, created. We can find technical debt in almost any system, including those that seem to be working well. So what's the problem? The problem is the "interest charges." Systems carrying technical debt are more difficult to maintain, more difficult to extend or enhance, and more difficult to use, than they would be if we "retired" the debt. This engaging and eye-opening program points the way to a path that leads your organization out of technical debt, to make it more adaptable, more transformable, and more agile. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date 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 an upcoming date for this program:

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's an upcoming date for 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.