This week’s Systems Ju-jitsu tactic is called Sabotage the Saboteur. Whenever the leader moves purposefully toward realizing a vision or moving the system toward responsible actions of integrity, he or she can count on sabotage. Sabotage takes many forms, often surprising ones. Additionally, it is difficult to anticipate who, in their reactivity, will play the role of saboteur. It can be friend or foe.
Willful saboteurs, however, deserve particular attention. These are the persons in the system whose narrow repertoire and dedicated role is to block any progress in the system. It’s not worth trying to figure out their motives since this is an unthinking reactive posture from persons with low capacity for differentiation. What is helpful to the leader is to recognize the predictable patterned function these individuals play in the system.
Because saboteurs operate in stealth mode (they are like Ninjas, you never see them coming!) it is almost impossible to take them on directly. But one helpful Systems Ju-jitsu tactic is to make preparations to sabotage the saboteurs.
During a strategic planning period, Bob, a longtime church member got on the message “We are plateaued!” and “the Sunday School is not growing!” His constant chicken-little panic message would derail progress in leadership meetings. Given that he was a member of the Christian Education committee, and an otherwise positive individual, one would think it surprising that he would harp on such a negative perspective. But anxiety chooses a place to settle, and you never know who will take on the role of saboteur.
Bob had picked up on the “plateaued church” message from the denominational consultant for the long range planning process. It became his lens and his issue of focus. My tactic was to avoid confronting him directly. Instead, I did some data gathering and prepared some factual information to present at the right moment (note, “Death by Data” is another effective Systems Ju-jitsu tactic). I didn’t have to wait long. The next time he started on his one-note message I made the move by distributing the data to the members in the group and said, “Bob, thank you for that. I’ve been listening to your good warning and it got me to wondering about where we are with this issue. So I did some homework and I want to share some data I discovered. I’d like to hear what you see in this.” (Tactic: Avoid direct confrontation. Thank Bob for his genuine concern and for bringing the matter to the attention of the group. Solicit his opinion. Share the data--the facts). What the data showed was that there was steady 5% growth per-year in the Sunday School. Additionally, if one factored in the educational programs created over the past few years there was 10% to 15% growth per year in participation in educational programs overall.
Bob was taken aback with the data and at one point muttered, “Well, I guess we’re not plateaued after all.” At which point the group got unhooked from Bob’s panic message and was able to move ahead with more constructive work. Sometimes the best way to handle sabotage is to sabotage the saboteurs.
Next week’s Systems Ju-jitsu tactic: “Feed the Neurosis”