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Beware of Backstabbers: How to Protect Your Team

by | Apr 23, 2013 | By Karin Hurt, Employee Engagement & Energy |

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)

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Eric Dingler

    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

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

        • letsgrowleaders

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

  2. Steve Borek

    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.

  3. Dave Tumbarello

    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.

  4. Matt McWilliams

    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

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

      • Matt McWilliams

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

  5. Jane

    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

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


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