How to Lead a ‘Back-Stabber’

5 tips to turn your backstabbing encounters into learning opportunities.

“Being betrayed is one of the most valuable lessons life can teach.”
— Shania Twain

If you haven’t had the opportunity to lead a ‘backstabber,’ consider it only a matter of time. Leading a backstabber may appear to be a very bad situation; however, backstabbers give you a chance to rise up and grow as a leader. So, in a weird kind of way, be thankful for the backstabbers in your life, as they offer you a challenge you will eventually look back on as a valuable leadership lesson.

There are a few things you can do to ensure your encounters with backstabbers become learning opportunities and not unproductive time wasters. Here are a few things I’ve learned from experience that may help you out. Some of these I learned the hard way; hopefully, you can learn from my ‘mis-takes.’

1. Don’t Stoop to Their Level

One of the worst things you can do is to stoop to the backstabber’s behavior and start talking about them to others. This will be difficult not to do at times, but fight the urge and remember that you are in charge. As a leader, you have control over the situation and can control the direction it goes. Never lower your standards to a backstabber’s behavioral level. Remain in charge and in control; this will require action from you, as it will not seize to exist all by itself.

2. Address the Issue or Attitude… Not the Person

Figure out the specific issue the backstabber is upset about, and get to the bottom of it. What is the reason for their poor attitude? What has them so fired up they have chosen to go behind your back and start bashing you or your policies? Do your research and collect as many details as you can before you decide to talk to them — yes, you must eventually confront them directly.

Before talking to them, determine whether this is typical behavior from the backstabber; is this his/her normal behavior? If so, you need to nip it in the bud quickly, as this behavior is not acceptable. However, if it’s out of the ordinary behavior, you probably need to dig deeper to understand the background story. Either way, when you approach them directly, they will not be expecting it, so you will have the upper edge.

3. Show them Grace!

Yep, you read it right. This may be one of the toughest things for a leader to understand, but even “back-stabbers” need grace. Take the time to talk to them to get to know them, and their background. Until you know what’s going on in their life, you really can’t get a complete assessment of the situation or their attitude & behaviors. They may be having a bad day, bad month, bad career, or a bad life… show them grace and find out the answers behind their behavior. Show them you care about them by taking the time to sit down with them and have a real conversation. Ask them how you can help them!

4. Work Through It… Resolve it!

You can work through an issue of backstabbing in a rational, respectful manner. However, by the end of the conversation, the backstabber must understand their behavior is wrong. There are ways to bring disagreements to leadership’s attention, but backstabbing is not an effective way. By the end of the conversation, your backstabber should be very clear on what the most effective way to discuss issues with leadership.

5. Don’t Turn Your Back

One thing is for certain, if your back is not to a backstabber, they cannot stab you! Keep engaged with your people as much as possible. Develop trusting relationships with them by giving them greater responsibilities over time. Involve them in decision-making, and follow up with them often. Engagement is one of the key elements to preventing backstabbing. If you are continuously engaged with your people, it’s difficult for a backstabber to muster up enough steam that gets any attention. 
 Note: too much engagement can appear to be micro-managing, so work on getting a good balance.

The bottom line is every leader will have to deal with backstabbers sooner or later. The most important thing is to be open to getting to the bottom of the behavior in a civil manner. Don’t stoop to their level by telling others how bad they are; instead, face them directly and talk it out. Take the high road, yet ensure they know you will not tolerate that behavior from anyone. Leading a backstabber is challenging, yet a great opportunity for you to grow as a leader. Embrace it and address it head-on, and you will stand out among leaders.

Run to Your Challenges… to Achieve Greatness & Stand Out Among Leaders!

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