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.
- 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.
- 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 helpis 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."
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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- The High Cost of Low Trust: I
- We usually think of Trust as one of those soft qualities that we would all like our organizational cultures
to have. Yet, truly paying attention to Trust at work is rare, in part, because we don't fully appreciate
what distrust really costs. Here are some of the ways we pay for low trust.
- Group Problem-Solving Tangles
- When teams solve problems together, discussions of proposed solutions usually focus on combinations
of what the solution will do, how much it will cost, how long it will take, and much more. Disentangling
these threads can make discussions much more effective.
- Staying in Abilene
- A "Trip to Abilene," identified by Jerry Harvey, is a group decision to undertake an effort
that no group members believe in. Extending the concept slightly, "Staying in Abilene" happens
when groups fail even to consider changing something that everyone would agree needs changing.
- The Knowledge One-Upmanship Game
- The Knowledge One-Upmanship Game is a pattern of group behavior in the form of a contest to determine
which player knows the most arcane fact. It can seem like innocent fun, but it can disrupt a team's
ability to collaborate.
- Columbo Strategy
- A late 20th-century television detective named Columbo had a unique approach to cracking murder cases.
His method is just as effective at work when the less powerful must deal with the powerful.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 19: I Don't Understand: II
- Unclear, incomplete, or ambiguous statements are problematic, in part, because we need to seek clarification. How can we do that without seeming to be hostile, threatening, or disrespectful? Available here and by RSS on June 19.
- And on June 26: Appearance Antipatterns: I
- Appearances can be deceiving. Just as we can misinterpret the actions and motivations of others, others can misinterpret our own actions and motivations. But we can take steps to limit these effects. Available here and by RSS on June 26.
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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.