Dealing with a backstabber

2009

I have a dream job that I always aspired to and that I have worked for past eight years of my career life to get it. Not only do I have my dream role, but my department head is the best mentor anyone could wish for Ė really, no sarcasm intended.

One of the reasons for bringing me in was to introduce a new way of doing things, especially at the top and middle layers. But now, 10 months after I started the job, I still have problems with another senior manager who somehow doesn't seem to (or want to) accept the new ways of doing things that I am currently trying to setup. Lets call this senior manager Mr.Bono.

Mr. Bono has been with this organisation for more than three years. He and his 10-member team are is professional and very good at their jobs.

We got on fine to begin with, but things started to go downhill when I tried to implement changes. Not only did he resist them, but rather than do so constructively, he resorted to back-stabbing and spying (yep, you heard me right) on my managers and other department managers.

Even our mutual boss (we both report to the same person) has given up trying to deal with him. He has been told him to back off several times but he mutely does not, and continues to battle me.

From where I come from, I am used to differences among middle managers but never I have seen someone behave so aggressively that even the senior managers cannot do anything to cover me. I have tried talking to Mr Bono at lunch or drinks but he is a two-faced person who only shows his dark side behind my back.

Strangely, all other department managers have adapted and even embraced the new way of doing things.

All this has made me wonder:

  • Is it my own lack of management skills that has causing Mr Bono to behave like this?
  • By not taking action against Mr.Bono, is senior management tacitly supporting his resistance?
  • Do my senior managers lack the skills to manage Mr Bono?
  • Am I in the wrong place ? Is it time to call it quits and move on?
  • Should I continue to implement new way of doing things and just try to ignore Mr Bono?
  • Should I start backstabbing him and give him a taste of his own medicine?
Harry

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Charles Helliwell's Answer:

I'm surprised at you. You - the expert at engineering change cultures inside organisations over a period of many years. You have astutely assessed Mr Bono on a number of levels, and yet, you have singularly failed to spot the one aspect in Mr Bono's pattern of behaviour, which should have shaped the way you dealt with him.

Mr Bono is feeling very vulnerable, and as a consequence, he is feeling threatened by anything which exacerbates and exposes that vulnerability.

You are NOT going to be Mr Bono's best friend, and I can see why he's doing everything he can to discredit the work you are engaged in.

You state that Mr Bono and his team are doing a very good job and you go out of your way to salute him and his 10 person team; but how do you know that he's doing a good job and on what basis are you making that judgement?

Mr Bono and his team may actually be doing a lousy job in comparison to what they might be capable of doing. Your work puts them in danger of exposure to one and all, and that makes you a danger and a threat. Surely you can see that.

Resisting Mr Bono and his team will only reflect poorly on you. The other senior managers will have had sufficient exposure to the behaviour of Mr Bono, to steer well clear. For them, there's no upside in taking him on, so although they may not like or agree with what he says and does, they will do nothing about it. You have been parachuted in as the expert in change management, and therefore they will be looking to you to do the necessary.

Expect no help from them, as they know how difficult the task is.

No, sadly for you Harry, Mr Bono is yours, and yours alone to deal with.

So, this is what you do. Mr Bono is an astute operator; he will know by now that the game is up and the writing is on the wall. Take Mr Bono aside, preferably out of the office, and tell him this. Let him know that change WILL be happening and it will either be you or someone else who will implement something, whether Mr Bono likes it or not. Suggest to him that it might be better if what was implemented was something he felt that he was in control of, as opposed to something which was just imposed upon him.

Share your objectives and your outcomes for Mr Bono's department with him and ask him to re-structure and re-write the objectives in a manner that he is more comfortable with. Suggest to him that once they become HIS objectives, and YOUR outcomes, you will work with him and perhaps even for him, to implement whatever changes may be required to make them happen.

Make it clear that you will let everyone know that this is Mr Bono's initiative and that you are working with him to carry them out.

Just remember, Harry, that the outcome is the all important endgame here.

It's not important who is seen to be driving the process or in control of it; what's most important is that Mr Bono and his team adapt to a different way of working, and what better way to do that than by letting them find that outcome, by themselves. That way, no one loses face; you get what you want; the company gets what they want and no one's any the wiser on how you got there.

About our Expert

Charles Helliwell
Charles Helliwell

For almost 20 years, Charles Helliwell has been enjoying a lifestyle and making a living as a behavioural and relationship mentor specialising in the personal and professional development of individuals and teams in the workplace.