How to Stab Your Boss in the Back

Think you can do a better job than your out-of-touch manager? Trying to oust him is a career move fraught with risk, but it can be done if you heed these five steps.

By C.G. Lynch
Thu, July 26, 2007

CIO — If you have ever entertained thoughts of overthrowing your toxic, out-of-touch boss, the tale of Shakespeare's Macbeth should serve as a caution: Macbeth, a general, is praised by the king for his valor. One night Macbeth encounters three witches, one of whom tells him that he shall one day be king. Macbeth decides to hurry things along, murders the King and frames the King's bodyguards. Macbeth gets the crown but is looked upon suspiciously by his rivals-one of whom does Macbeth in.

Obviously, you don't want to kill your career. Stabbing your boss in the back (even if your department really would be better off without him) is an expedition riddled with peril. So what's the upwardly mobile IT manager to do?

Be subtle, and let your leadership skills and the facts about your boss's performance speak for themselves, say career coaches and recruiters. According to Martha Heller, a career coach and managing director of the IT leadership practice at executive recruiting company ZRG: "If you are seen in any way as Machiavellian or underhanded, you will not have the reputation of having integrity and you won't get the gig."

How successful you will be also depends on how far up the ladder you've already climbed. For instance, a CIO role is hard for any internal candidate to win: Recruiters and career coaches estimate that an open CIO position is filled externally about 60 percent of the time. The reason? Internal candidates usually lack the broad experience necessary to thrive in the C suite.

But as this how-to guide points out, it is possible to oust your manager and slide into his job. Best of all, you can do it without being a bad guy. By establishing strategic partnerships with the people who have the ultimate hiring and firing power, and by rallying support from those who would be your troops, you can make a case for why a regime change could be healthy for the business. However, once you achieve your goal, you'll need to be sure you can tackle the problems that led to your boss's ouster, or you could end up suffering his fate.

1: Assess your boss: Is he or she vulnerable?
Before you decide to put your plans for a coup in motion, you need to make sure your boss is vulnerable enough to be ousted. The red flag for a vulnerable manager is not necessarily a failed project (though those do raise some eyebrows) but the point when he or she becomes the aloof spouse in the unhappy marriage between the business and IT. "If I am interviewing a recently let-go CIO, I usually find that they took their eye off the ball and weren't busy managing their business relationships," says Karen Rubenstrunk, an executive recruiter with Korn/Ferry International.

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