When Should You Take Down Your Boss?

Last Updated Feb 29, 2008 8:09 PM EST

brutus.jpgWe've all wanted to kill our boss at some point, but beyond the ethical concerns (and logistical complications of an office assassination), it may not be the best move for your career or your company.

A recent article in The American highlights the findings of economic research mavericks, Ben Olken and partner Ben Jones, who found that periods of economic and political growth after the assassination or death of a political leader depended on the disposition of the former ruler.

In "Do Leaders Matter? National Leadership and Growth since World War II," Olken and Jones explored whether "individual political leaders make a difference in economic growth." This is tricky business for the researcher because, as Olken explains, a country's economic situation can affect the election of a leader: when the economic outlook is good, for instance, presidents are more likely to be reelected. So Olken and Jones looked at 57 leaders who died in office from accidents or natural causes and "found big changes in growth when autocratic leaders die in office--both positive and negative," but no substantial change when democratic leaders died in office.
So what can the business world take from this? Of course you wouldn't really kill your boss, but if you're working under a tyrant that you think isn't fit for the job, finding a way to unseat him or her could instill some positive change. Conversely, you may want to think twice about gunning for your boss's job if he or she is the employee-involving, value-your-opinion type -- even if your personal aspirations compel you to usurpation.

Once you've managed to connive your way to the top spot over a megalomaniacal manager, the rules now apply to you -- heavy is the neck that wears the Hermès tie. It's almost common sense, but if you try to take the business in a positive direction by being a tyrannical martinet and end up with questionable returns, be prepared to have your rule challenged by would-be revolutionaries. But if you listen to your employees and take their concerns into consideration, their motivation to stage a coup should be negligible.

Obviously it's a bit apples to oranges to extrapolate Olken's research on the geopolitical maneuverings of nation-states to the smaller world of boardroom intrigue, but to answer the question implicit in "Do Leaders Matter?:" Yes, leaders do matter. But sometimes what matters more is taking a cue from Brutus and slipping the metaphorical shiv between a bad one's ribs.