The Advisor’s Corner – How do I deal with those who support me in public and sabotage me in private?

How do I deal with those who support me in public and sabotage me in private?Question:

What can I do about people who tell me they support my vision but I’ve heard through the grapevine that they are sabotaging me?

StrategyDriven Response: (by Roxi Hewertson, StrategyDriven Principal Contributor)

These people are most likely, what I call ‘Termites.’ The term fits them well because they manage to smile and slide their way into the accepted norms and culture, and then wreck havoc just underneath the surface. Highly skilled Termites can be hard to spot until they’ve done so much damage the ‘walls’ begin to shake or fall down. The damage is often not discovered right after a Termite has moved on to fresh territory. So… what can you do?


The best way to prevent Termite damage is to have a very strong set of organizational values that include integrity or truth or a similar concept around honesty. When these are firmly in place AND people are measured objectively and regularly against those values, Termites find fewer and fewer places to hide.

Cultural and operational values function exactly like a strong foundation for your ‘house,’ and are made even stronger when there are supports in the walls. That means values with accountability. Checks and balances also need to be in place, so that no single person has unfettered power and influence within their workgroup. If they have too much power, Termites will use it to disguise their damage and isolate their people from others to create a protective cover for and big lies about their dirty deeds.


You should suspect Termite activity in your midst by noticing things that don’t quite add up for feel “fishy” to you. Watching, observe carefully how people behave, and walk around your workplace frequently. Termites can’t fool everyone all the time. Pick up on conversations, patterns, and become a deep listener, truly hearing ALL of what people are trying to tell you.


Assume nothing. Once you’ve discovered a Termite in your midst, ask a lot of questions and require good answers. Get multiple sources to verify and provide you clean data about what you need to know. Another support for your ‘house’ is having a true ‘safety net’ within your organization where people can go to express their concerns without fear, and with anonymity. Look for repetition and for patterns of the Termite’s behavior. If you get anonymous pain mail under your door – I call them POW notes – don’t ignore them. They are usually ‘smoke signals’ sending you a message you need to hear.

Trust your instincts. Trust what you see and hear with all the subtle and not so subtle body language people are telegraphing to you. Finally, pay attention to ‘those who protest too much!’

There are Termites and then there are people who exaggerate, even might gossip a bit, or use hyperbole. The latter are not Termites. These people can usually be guided down a better path with good coaching.

You can’t ‘fix’ a Termite. Once a workplace liar, always a liar – it’s just the size of the lies and the target that will vary. You cannot coach a liar into honesty. Lying is okay for them; it’s part of their value system and their end does justify their means.

The only solution to a workplace Termite is to call in pest control and rid yourself of the pain and damage as soon as you can.

About the Author

Roxi HewertsonLeadership authority Roxana (Roxi) Hewertson is a no-nonsense business veteran revered for her nuts-and-bolts, tell-it-like-it-is approach and practical, out-of-the-box insights that help both emerging and expert managers, executives and owners boost quantifiable job performance in various mission critical facets of business. Through, Roxi — “the Dear Abby of Leadership” — imparts invaluable free advice to managers and leaders at all levels, from the bullpen to the boardroom, to help them solve problems, become more effective and realize a higher measure of business and career success.

The StrategyDriven website was created to provide members of our community with insights to the actions that help create the shared vision, focus, and commitment needed to improve organizational alignment and accountability for the achievement of superior results. We look forward to answering your strategic planning and tactical business execution questions. Please email your questions to [email protected].

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