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VIEWPOINT: AT THE OFFICE: THE CHARACTER ASSASSIN

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In this competitive work environment where companies are looking to restructure, to reduce staff complement, and to align their skill sets to their future needs, one may fall into the trap of being a character assassin.

There is a saying, ‘Play the ball and not the player.’ A character assassin is a person who discredits others (personally) or misrepresents them, apart from their performance. A leader tries not to be one and needs to know how to deal with one.

I’ve learnt that people in general are not out there to get you. People are out to look after number 1 – themselves.

In the current economy, employees may feel threatened and therefore trying to preserve their own jobs, or get promotion, or remain relevant and not become redundant may be their reason for discrediting others. It all starts with fear. As a leader, first be street smart (and not only book smart) and accept that character assassins exist.

Second, know how to manage a character assassin, as you are bound to meet one at some stage in your career. Third, you need to discourage such a culture in your teams.

BEING STREETWISE

One cannot assume that your role or position is always secure. Know that there will be younger, or smarter, or harder-working people wanting your role.

This is positive because a leader should be working at making room for others. Similarly, others may feel threatened by you in their roles or positions and resort to playing the player, not the ball.

According to author D A Benton, the best way to deal with a character assassin is to respond by saying, ‘Oh, that person. No one is spared from his/her comments.’ This will let others know that you are not the only who may be a target. It also lets others know not to give any weight to comments made by the company’s character assassin.

But because you have built your character over time and it can be destroyed in a moment, you may at times need to clear any fundamental misrepresentation of your character.

LEADERS DEPLORE THIS CULTURE

It is for leaders to deplore the culture of character assassination as it does not add to the company’s high-performance culture. It negatively affects the culture and moral in the company.

As a leader, stay clear from attacking others’ characters. Focus on factual feedback based on performance that impacts work.

MANAGING CHARACTER ASSASSINS IN THE WORKPLACE

As a leader, you can discourage character assassination by observing the following:

  • Feedback on your teams’ performance should be factual.
  • What is said about a colleague should be what can be said to them openly.
  • Encourage open dialogue among your teams.
  • Build trust in your teams and within the organisation.
  • Take up the challenge to openly discourage a culture of character assassination. The tone from the top is essential.

Author: Gugu Mtetwa CA(SA) is a Non-executive Director

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