How Scandal Might Have Saved Your Bad Boss

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It's not professional to admit to vindictive feelings at work, but no matter what the circumstance, you've probably resented someone who had power over you. You may have even felt a little flutter when news broke that your least favorite manager was suddenly on the outs. Somehow, though, they always manage to pull through — and now we've got a specific concept explaining why.


Sure, you can blame tight networks and institutional inertia, but researchers the University of Notre Dame have been looking into the scandal severity gap to explain why some people are just made of Teflon. The very short version is that when powerful people are hit with a scandal, they're less likely to lose that power when the scandal seems way overblown. Less powerful people (as defined by effectiveness rather than rank) aren't so lucky: Even a mild scandal could see them booted from authority.

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"We argue this is because the excess drama from a large severity gap provides insiders with a perfect opportunity to scapegoat leaders they do not perceive as integral to the organization," said coauthor John Busenbark in a press release.


Busenbark also suggests that this dynamic pervades media coverage more generally, and it's why power players seem to weather big blow-ups and genuinely important stories fly under the radar. There's no real justice in this study either: Per Notre Dame, "strong-performing leaders who are dismissed from their organizations after a scandal are more likely to secure at least an equivalent position elsewhere." It makes all of us grind our teeth, but there's one small upside, if you like venting about work.