Five Leadership Moves To Outmaneuver a Saboteur

Since leaders are also mortal human beings there are times that someone or something gets the better of us. We can feel cornered and not able to see clearly how to work our way through a challenging situation. It might even feel like Groundhog Day for a leader, where we keep experiencing the same frustration over and over again. For example, you are working on a project and are frustrated with the way a team member completes the deliverable. The solution is fine but it’s not the exact way you would do it. They are constantly making you angry about this. Or maybe there is a difficult person you often work with who you feel is not as skilled as you are. You are sure that your particular expertise is what is necessary to run a meeting. You want to be in control of the meetings.

Does any of this sound familiar? Well for many leaders these saboteurs are constantly popping up in both their professional and personal lives. They allow the “perfectionist” saboteur to convince them that a project has to be done a certain way or the “controlling” saboteur to lose faith in someone else conducting a meeting. These saboteurs are like inner critics and tell us lies that we believe. But leaders can outsmart them.

Here are five leadership moves to outmaneuver a saboteur:

1. Name The Saboteur

Before a leader can confront their saboteur they need to identify their inner critic. They need to ask themselves whether they are being lied to about what is actually happening. It’s fascinating to step back and be honest about any negative chatter coming into our ears and minds. Once they acknowledge the saboteur, they need to name it with the help of some important questions:

  • Do you want to control every aspect of your work and life for fear of not getting things done?
  • Do you redo your work constantly so that it turns out as perfectly as possible? (There is no perfect, by the way)
  • Do you constantly want to please people at the expense of doing what is best for you?

2. Put Them On A Shelf

One practical way to defeat the most persistent saboteur is to simply push them aside. It can be very rewarding and allow a person to move forward by taking the saboteur in their arms and physically placing it down on a shelf. This action may sound odd, but it can truly outmaneuver the saboteur through the old adage, “Out of sight, out of mind”.

3. Recognize When They Appear

Go on an exploration to see when the saboteur appears. Becoming self-aware of what triggers the emergence of your inner critic can give you great insights into how they can be outmaneuvered. Often there are red flags that leaders miss if they don’t recognize the saboteur coming. Some things to look for are:

  • Notice when your body feels tense or sweaty.
  • Make a note of what is happening around you when your inner critic starts to act up.
  • Listen to any changes in your breathing patterns.

4. Initiate A Conversation

Here’s a sure way to stop the saboteur from staying too long. Why not begin a conversation with them? Ask them what it is they want and then respond by telling them they are lying and need to leave. Sounds pretty impressive. By being clear and direct that they are not welcome to sabotage your thoughts or actions is a powerful way to face them down.

5. Replace Them With Your Sage Wisdom

Finally, after kicking the saboteur to the curb, allow your inner wisdom to take over. Leaders need to acknowledge the truth about what may be happening in their work worlds or personal life. Your sage wisdom knows for sure that:

  • You are the expert of you.
  • Having someone do things in a different way can actually open up possibilities that you may have not considered.
  • There is no such thing as perfect; it’s an illusion.

Related: Finding Your Leadership Purpose