Is Someone Sabotaging Your Company? Is It You?

Leadership expert outlines ways that leaders thwart the success of their own companies. Knowing what not to do can make clear what they should do instead.

A businessman with a sledgehammer chips away at the part of a cliff he's standing on.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Something’s wrong. You know it. Everyone around you knows. It is as if someone is trying to sabotage your business. But who? How? Why? How can you find out? How can you fix it?

Anne Morriss could be the very person to ask. The leadership expert, along with Move Fast & Fix Things co-author Frances Frei, has set out a prescription for discovering what’s wrong and how to fix it, steering clear of office politics and tackling issues that address a company’s future. 

Their book is a highly readable step-by-step virtual instruction manual written with a good dose of humor.

Subscribe to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance

Be a smarter, better informed investor.

Save up to 74%

Sign up for Kiplinger’s Free E-Newsletters

Profit and prosper with the best of expert advice on investing, taxes, retirement, personal finance and more - straight to your e-mail.

Profit and prosper with the best of expert advice - straight to your e-mail.

Sign up

In my interview with Morriss, I discovered someone who was born a problem solver. We looked at several of the incorrect ways leaders are approaching critical issues that threaten a company’s survival.

1. When faced with a need to discover the root cause of problems, they move slowly.

Consequences: The cost is a crisis in trust, a crisis in performance, and in many cases, they give up the opportunity to have any impact at all. There is a window of opportunity when problems can be solved. In many cases, leaders assume that waiting or moving slowly does not have a cost. The implicit assumption is that there is no cost to moving slowly and that doing so will be safer.

In fact, moving slowly puts an organization in a more precarious position as leaders wait for more data, more information, more input from people who are in the know. “But slow often becomes a synonym for ‘destructive,’” Morriss points out, adding a quote by poet Ralph Waldo Emerson: “In skating over thin ice, our safety is in our speed.”

Morriss says, “Anyone who has lived where lakes and rivers freeze over, attracting ice skaters, never forgets the sound of dangerously thin ice and of warnings from all around to ‘get off it — move!’”

2. They tolerate collateral damage of their products and services, underinvest in relationships and play hide the ball.

Consequences: When leaders fail to signal to key stakeholders, employees, customers and shareholders how much they value those relationships and how important the problems are that they have, that harms their credibility. They can’t play hide the ball for long, as the resulting damage is severe. Their message should be that they want to clean up the mess, and it should be delivered with a sense of urgency.

3. They remain overconfident in the quality of their own thoughts and diagnoses, projecting a sense of arrogance. They fail to be curious. They assume their view of the problem is the correct view.

Consequences: They lose the opportunity to solve their most important problems. This is where we see leaders get stuck, assuming their perception is accurate without taking it for a test drive, without bringing other people into the conversation, without gathering the data to confirm their belief. They think, “My view of the problem is accurate. End of story.”

Overconfidence gets in the way of a leader understanding their own barriers to performance and impact.

4. They hire people who are just like them. They undervalue differences and fail to develop an environment that fosters creativity and welcomes free expressions of opinion.

Consequences: Leaders can develop a very narrow, arguably myopic view of their own organization, their own problems, their own marketplace and their own opportunities.

They can’t see clearly — it’s almost like they’re seeing with one eye instead of two.

The frequency with which people do not take this insight and apply it to their own lives and organizations is astonishing when you compare it to the payoff of getting it right.

Where people can bring unique insight, experiences and perspectives into the room and contribute them to the full extent of their capacity and then be fairly rewarded for those contributions, organizations that really get it far surpass their competitors.

This requires creating an environment where people not only feel safe and welcome in spite of whatever difference they’re bringing to the table, but also valued and championed because of their unique capabilities, information and experiences.

It’s the mix of all of those differences that are going to give leaders an incredible competitive advantage.

5. They fail to articulate a powerful story that honors the past and describes a reason for change in language all can understand. They use lots and lots of jargon.

Consequences: Human beings need stories to make sense of change and to find our place in the script of it. Leaders need those stories to inspire all the other people who are going to help with that change. They should describe their story or strategy simply, in language that everybody can understand.

For a leader who attempts to inspire with jargon, using it everywhere they go, no amount of passion will remedy their image as someone who is out of touch.

Move Fast & Fix Things is one of those gems in the business/leadership category that has something for everyone who wants an approach to discovering and solving office problems. It is also an enjoyable read!

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield, Calif., and welcomes comments and questions from readers, which may be faxed to (661) 323-7993, or e-mailed to And be sure to visit

related content


This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

H. Dennis Beaver, Esq.
Attorney at Law, Author of "You and the Law"

After attending Loyola University School of Law, H. Dennis Beaver joined California's Kern County District Attorney's Office, where he established a Consumer Fraud section. He is in the general practice of law and writes a syndicated newspaper column, "You and the Law." Through his column he offers readers in need of down-to-earth advice his help free of charge. "I know it sounds corny, but I just love to be able to use my education and experience to help, simply to help. When a reader contacts me, it is a gift."