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Organizational Saboteurs

Saboteur.   I like the way that rolls off my tongue.

A saboteur is anyone that engages in the act of sabotaging – i.e.  to damage, destroy or obstruct.

There are some saboteurs that do this through very intentional and vindictive methods.  That is a large topic and not the one that I want to cover today.  Today I want to speak to those that are passive, unintentional, and most of the time unknowing in their sabotaging of their organization.

Unknowing, unintentional and passive saboteurs still bring about damage in an organization.  Just because it it not intentional does not mean that it is not harmful.   Many people blow things up around them do not realize that it was their fault, which leads me to the characteristic number one of unknowing, unintentional and passive saboteurs:

Characteristic #1.  They are not highly self-aware people.  People that are not self aware do not realize the havoc and damage they are causing to those around them.  They make statements that hurt the organization in the name of wanting to make it better.  They hurt feelings and isolate others in the name of ‘being right’.   Many times they do not hold sway over a large segment of  the organization but hold a large sway over a small segment within the organization.  Therefore, what they share in the name being honest, does much damage.  Again, it is not intentional – but still does damage.

Characteristic #2:  They want to be a in control, but want no real responsibility.   Many times I hear this said, “Well so-in-so should not have made decision X, but instead should have choose Y.  If I was leading, I would have chosen Y, but who am I, I am not in charge.”  You press this person a bit and you find that their opinion about X and Y are much stronger than their resolve to help either X or Y actually happen.  They are not back seat drivers, instead they are watching and being critical from their own porch.  They are not even willing to get in the car, but instead they shout suggestions without moving from their safe space.  This does not help the organization move forward.

Characteristic #3:  They are usually highly capable or reliable people in some portion of your organization.   It is usually not people on the fringe who not participate in anything within your organization that become these unintentional, unknowing, passive saboteurs, but instead those that have some involvement or voice.   This is where it gets really tricky.  You see, they participate and give in one section of your organization in ways that looks really good and really healthy – yet behind the scenes they are being saboteurs.

So what do you do with unintentional, unknowing, passive saboteurs?

The starting place is properly identifying them.

Many times I see these people get a leadership label placed on them falsely.  Remember a leader is anyone that chooses to use their gifts and influence for the good of others.

The unintentional, unknowing, passive saboteurs are not leaders, they are at best unintentional, unknowing, passive manipulators.  

Second, help them to understand what they are doing within the organization.  This is tough, since many of them are not self-aware, so this can be very hard.  Help them in small conversations and small ways to take more ownership and help them see the consequences of their actions and words.

Thirdly, do not let them define your leadership.  Don’t allow the unintentional, unknowing, passive saboteurs dominate your way of leading your organization.  It would be like a football coach having his headset tuned into the commentator in the booth to decide what he play he is going to run.  The commentator does not know the heart, soul and context of the team.  The coach does.  The commentator likes to hear himself talk.

Don’t let your leading be overcome by unintentional, unknowing, passive saboteurs.

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