Beware of Backstabbers: How to Protect Your Team post image

Backstabbers promote self-interest at all costs. These wicked tricksters crush you with subtle moves. They move from gentle to ferocious in a single strike, like a Bengal Tiger. They’re a rare breed, but when you meet one, be prepared. They can slow results, damage morale, and derail careers. Beware and have your own moves.

Tigers challenge, frustrate, and don’t play fair. It’s often too late to react. You’re working too hard for that to happen to you or your team. Stay nice, treat others with compassion, take the high road, and protect.

Signs You’re Getting Mauled

Look around. Watch for other’s reactions and look for signs.

  • There’s a trail of carnage
  • You are constantly watching your back
  • Everyone runs
  • The roar
  • Sudden attacks
  • No mercy
  • Ravenous taking
  • Play turns deadly

How to Tame a Backstabber

Some tigers do change their stripes.It’s worth a try. Even when others have failed.

  • Listen carefully
  • Throw them some meat (give them what they need)
  • More meat
  • Ask for help (you may even ask them to be your “mentor”)
  • Show your stripes (take a stand)
  • Confront (question questionable behaviors, carefully and privately)

When to Sharpen Your Blade

And sometimes you must protect


  • You give them meat, and they eat your hand
  • And the other hand
  • You have scars on your back
  • It’s not just you
  • Strangers warn you


  • Produce tiger-proof results
  • Have rumor-squashing data at your finger-tips
  • Proactively tell your positive story (don’t mention the tiger)
  • Invest deeply in other relationships
  • Don’t react or run (stay cool)
  • Expose gently (as a last resort)

How do you tame a backstabber?
Filed Under:   Energy & Engagement
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

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What People Are Saying

Eric Dingler   |   23 April 2013   |   Reply

Don’t believe a bigger tiger can tame another tiger. Stay above the food chain and refuse to sink to their level, refuse to play their game.

letsgrowleaders   |   23 April 2013   |   Reply

Eric, Sounds like you’ve met a tiger or too. Perfect add. Refuse to play their game.

Eric Dingler   |   23 April 2013   |  

Actually…I’m a reformed tiger.

letsgrowleaders   |   23 April 2013   |  

Eric, Even better. We all have a little tiger in us.

Steve Borek   |   23 April 2013   |   Reply

The Life of Pi was one of my favorite movies in the last five years. Lovely motion picture.

I actually wrote about this last week. Meet the tiger right where they’re at. Exactly the way the young man did in the movie. Stand your ground in a neutrally charged way.

letsgrowleaders   |   23 April 2013   |   Reply

Thanks, Steve. Steve writes a great blog each Sunday at

Dave Tumbarello   |   23 April 2013   |   Reply

Of course, taming the bengal tiger was in one interpretation a young man taming himself. I don’t know about the book, but the movie had an incredible ambiguity of Self / Other / Spirituality. Which makes taming all that more personal.

letsgrowleaders   |   24 April 2013   |   Reply

Dave. Yes! The tiger within.

Matt McWilliams   |   23 April 2013   |   Reply

I prefer the passive-aggressive way of avoiding the tiger and pretending he or she is not there. Then if he or she bites me, I just send the tiger to a new zoo (firing).

Oh…you meant real solutions?

That IS what I used to do.

Now I just use my feedback technique, stay calm, and give the tiger what he/she wants when it’s right, coach the tiger when he/she is wrong, and only use the new zoo as a last resort.

But most of all, I’ve learned to hire good tigers or no tigers at all.

letsgrowleaders   |   24 April 2013   |   Reply

Matt, that’s great! What if the tiger is above you in the food chain?

Matt McWilliams   |   24 April 2013   |  

Good question. Thankfully, I have never had to deal with that…and hopefully never will :)

Jane   |   23 April 2013   |   Reply

Thank you for this post – I think all leaders encounter tigers at some point in ther careers. It’s important to identify them quickly and then work with them to turn them into purring kittens!

letsgrowleaders   |   24 April 2013   |   Reply

Jane, what a great add… sometimes they are hard to spot. The quicker the better.