Putting a SLANT on sabotage

Posted October 6, 2010 in Latest News & Insights

Ah the joys of leadership.   I was lunching with a colleague who has recently been promoted and is experiencing her first overt dose of workplace sabotage in the form of openly hostile behaviour from a former peer, who (for whatever reason) doesn’t think my colleague is ready for the new mandate.  Leadership isn’t always sunshine and roses, but dealing with a saboteur has to be one of the more frustrating challenges. So, what can you do?

My colleague was expressing her shock at the completely juvenile antics employed by this senior leader eg: going to the boss behind her back, overtly aggressive/confrontational behaviour in meetings, passing on only partial information, etc. etc.  To add salt on the wound, the behaviour’s coming from someone who was a regular lunch companion prior to her promotion.

I know what you’re thinking.  Well, maybe your colleague came in full guns blazing (like many newly promoted folks do) and this person is right to have her nose out of joint.  That’s a fair counter assumption, but in this case definitely off base.  Consensus building is one of this particular leaders core strengths and they have done everything they can to win over the hostile player.

Which led me to think that even when we think we’ve left the school yard behind us, the workplace can still be wrought with the usual suspects: cool kids, smart kids, geeks and, of course, bullies.  Which is – in my opinion – exactly what’s happening here.

When things don’t go a bully’s way, they decide to exert a bit of whatever power they think they have to try to intimidate you into a corner.  In this case, the individual went around my colleague to her boss and demanded that she not be required to report to her (fortunately, the boss wasn’t going to take the bait and has rebuked the command).  Now, she’s greasing the ear of any influential senior person she can manipulate.  Do you notice that workplace bullies are usually particularly good at “managing up”?

In my experience, as a leader, you have to nip this type of bullying behaviour in the bud quickly or else it’s effects can spread like a cancer.  One of the tools I’ve used to frame up conversations with a workplace bully I learned from a wonderful Canadian consultant, Dr. Harvey Silver.

Harvey has a model he calls the SLANT model for having those tough conversations.  The bully has the choice to: Leave, Accept the new reality, Negotiate different terms/outcomes or request a Transfer (the LANT part)… or s/he can continue to undermine your leadership which would be in effect “Sabotage” which will leave you no choice but to fire him/her.  Thus “SLANT”.  Four of the directions put the decision on how to move forward firmly in the court of the employee, which requires them to take responsibility for their actions and gives you a clear discussion path.

The final direction puts the ball firmly in your court to demonstrate that you will not be undermined and that if the individual in question can’t come up with an alternative, workable solution, they are leaving you no choice but to move forward and deal with the insubordination.

I’ve used this model successfully on more than one occasion to deal with a malicious colleague.  Obviously, the conversations don’t play out neatly in a five point discussion “LANT” or “S” way, but they do give you some guideposts to explore when you’re dealing with someone intent on derailing your leadership mandate.  And, theory aside, as a leader, it’s important to remember that you may not be able to win everyone over… some people just may not like you.  Period.  So, best to let it go… help them move on, so that you can move on to.  For your team and,  most importantly, for yourself. 

Do you have any approaches for dealing with a sabotaging colleague that work?  I’d love to hear them.

Happy leading!

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