Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 10, Issue 26;   June 30, 2010:

How to Undermine Your Boss

by

Ever since I wrote "How to Undermine Your Subordinates," I've received scads of requests for "How to Undermine Your Boss." Must be a lot of unhappy subordinates out there. Well, this one's for you.
The reverse side of the U.S. quarter dollar coin issued in 2000, honoring the state of New Hampsire

The reverse side of the U.S. quarter dollar coin issued in 2000, honoring the state of New Hampshire. The image depicts a rock formation on Cannon Mountain that was known as "The Old Man in the Mountain." It collapsed sometime between May 1 and May 3, 2003. The date is a bit uncertain because the mountain was shrouded in clouds and fog on the days before May 3.

The formation collapsed as a result of water penetrating its crevices and repeatedly freezing and thawing. Eventually, this weakened the structure, and it collapsed of its own weight. Something similar often happens at work, because the incompetent and corrupt eventually destroy themselves with very little assistance from others. Sometimes, though, the process takes longer than subordinates would like, and this might be the source of the urge to undermine the boss. Photo by U.S. Mint courtesy WikiMedia.

Recently I wrote a piece about how to undermine your subordinates. It ended with a facetious comment about my forthcoming article on undermining your boss, which I had no plans ever to write. But I've had so many requests from readers (some of them obviously desperate) that I was compelled to write what you're about to read.

But I've learned my lesson, so here's a facetiousness warning: almost none of the following is serious.

The First Principle of Undermining Your Boss is: Don't Get Caught At It. No, wait, that's the Second Principle. The First principle is: Do Not Ever Do It. Ever. It should be obvious why not, but here's the reason: Your Boss Can Get or Already Has Much More Powerful Tools for Revenge Than You Do.

OK. Now we have that out of the way. Here's how to do it.

There's only one reason to undermine your boss
Some people hope they can get their bosses transferred or terminated, or even take over their boss's job. These outcomes are extremely unlikely, because every incompetent boss who somehow stays employed has a supervisor who wants it that way — or who is just as incompetent.
Fixing things is a fantasy. The only reason to even try to undermine your boss is Ecstatic Enjoyment. Oh, and maybe sometimes Revenge.
At the right time, do nothing
When you notice something happening that you could help with, don't. Pretend you didn't notice it. Go to lunch. Whistle a merry tune.
Of course, if your boss asks you to assist, that's completely different. But since your goal is undermining your boss, requests for assistance always present delicious possibilities.
Get help from Human Resources
When it comes to undermining your boss, HumanNothing juicy in Human Resources
is ever really confidential
for very long
Resources can work magic. But they need a reason. Ask for a confidential counseling session. Confidentiality might seem to be counterproductive here, but remember: nothing juicy in Human Resources is ever really confidential for very long.
In the session, ask in a solemn tone, "If someone knows of something unethical going on, are they obligated to report it?" Ignore the answer. It's asking the question that counts. If that doesn't get HR going, then ask, "If someone wants to report something unethical, how can I do that anonymously?"
Be publicly supportive in useless ways
In public, always support your boss. Since undermining is your actual goal, you don't want to be on the list of suspects when they try to figure out who could have said or done whatever was said or done.
But don't go overboard. Don't actually do anything that would help. If your co-workers all hate you, then your public stance is working. You're safe. From your boss, that is — from your co-workers, maybe not.

If you do any of this, be ready at a moment's notice to start a job search. Even better: skip over all of it and start a job search now. Go to top Top  Next issue: Seven Ways to Get Nowhere  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? rbrenXEiRBfuFHUtjHrqUner@ChacpYPvvSVhUNIOeXHKoCanyon.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:

A portion of the memorial to the Massachusetts 54th RegimentHow to Get Promoted in Place
Do you think you're overdue for a promotion? Many of us do, judging by the number of Web pages that talk about promotions, getting promoted, or asking for promotions. What you do to get a promotion depends on what you're aiming for.
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.
Two redwoods in the Stout Memorial Grove of the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in CaliforniaNot Really Part of the Team: I
Some team members hang back. They show little initiative and have little social contact with other team members. How does this come about?
A10 Thunderbolt II "Warthog"Not Really Part of the Team: II
When some team members hang back, declining to show initiative, we tend to overlook the possibility that their behavior is a response to something happening within or around the team. Too often we hold responsible the person who's hanging back. What other explanations are possible?
A studio publicity photo of Alfred HitchcockSuspense Is Not Your Friend
Most of us have to talk to other people at work. Whether to peers, subordinates, or superiors, sometimes we must convey information that can be complicated when delivered in full detail. To convey complicated ideas effectively, avoid suspense.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A beach at sunsetComing August 4: What Are the Chances: I
When estimating the probabilities of success of different strategies, we must often estimate the probability of multiple events occurring. People make a common mistake when forming such estimates. They assume that events are independent when they are not. Available here and by RSS on August 4.
Main Reading Room of the U.S. Library of CongressAnd on August 11: Many "Stupid" Questions Aren't
Occasionally someone asks a question that causes us to think, "Now that's a stupid question." Rarely is that assessment correct. Knowing what alternative assessments are possible can help us respond more effectively in the moment. Available here and by RSS on August 11.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenXEiRBfuFHUtjHrqUner@ChacpYPvvSVhUNIOeXHKoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, 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 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

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.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. 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 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.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!

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.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.