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Some Frank Talk About Throwing People Under the Bus

Uncategorized Nov 14, 2017

Let’s chat about the phenomenon called ‘throwing someone under the bus’.

This is not a pleasant topic, and I’m sure none of you, dear readers, has ever done this.

However, it happens all the time, so SOMEONE must be doing it!

What is it? It is when things are not going well, and the leader pins the blame on someone else and makes them look bad, thereby deflecting the responsibility of failure away from him or herself.

Here are a couple of examples:

  • The department’s annual sales numbers are not going to be met, so the Director fires the Sales Manager.
  • Bad news needs to be delivered to the C-Suite, and during the discussion, the Director blames one of the team members for not providing her correct information, and explains away the bad news that way.

First of all, there may be legitimate reasons for firing the Sales Manager or shedding light on a chronic weakness in the team member of not providing information. However, doing it in public and often without warning, is not ever legitimate.


Both of these cowardly actions provides a quick way for them to show that they have NO RESPONSIBILITY in what didn’t work. These other people are to blame. Whew…that was close! Right?


It is the person in the leadership position who needs to make sure the team is coming together in the correct way to get the right work done to succeed. When success is not happening, the person in the leadership position needs to do some soul searching and strategizing to figure out how to better lead the team to success.  And, to have frank conversations with the team about what each person (including the leader!!) needs to do to get closer to the desired results.

When the leader punishes someone—through any number of methods—rather than accept his or her own role in the problem, that is what ‘throwing under the bus’ looks like.

And, it can literally feel like getting hit by a bus. When these attacks come out of nowhere they can literally take the victim’s breath away!

This sneaky technique has several very negative consequences:

  • It plants a deep sense of mistrust within team members. They don’t know when it will happen, or who the next victim will be.
  • It leads the team to lose respect for the leader. “What a chickensh*t!”
  • It guarantees that the team will stop following you and stop caring about your goals and objectives.
  • It pretty much guarantees the team will stop caring at all!

Rather than getting caught in this terrible behavior, do the following:

  • Understand how you handle fear, particularly, the fear of failure.
  • Recognize that you are the person responsible for leading the team to achieve the desired results. That means you must ask yourself what YOU need to do differently.
  • Recognize that you are not the victim of things not going quite right, and accept responsibility you have for righting the ship.
  • Pull the team together and have the hard conversation about how things need to change so you all don’t get into this situation again.
  • If you have thrown someone under the bus, apologize, accept responsibility for it, and ask for a second chance.

This is one of the important lessons of leadership. You are up to handling failure in an up-front, brave way. That makes you look so much better than deflecting blame onto someone who can’t speak up!



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