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This is the first article in a three-part series dedicated to helping you deliver professional outperformance in 2023.

She was one of those leaders you sought out for advice and, if you were lucky, became a member of her team. 

She was smart, energetic, and inspiring, but also had high expectations. She required every team member to work together and leverage their unique strengths for the greater good while celebrating each individual’s contributions.

She constantly challenged and encouraged the team to propose ideas and display courage when needed. The team was grateful to have her as a leader, and she was grateful to be a leader. 

People stayed at the company because they made a difference by focusing on initiatives that directly impacted the company’s core purpose. This resulted in teams that consistently created incredible results and value for the organization. 

And then, one day, everything changed.

A junior executive (JE) one step above her, who was beloved by senior executives for being ‘tough,’ began an internal campaign against her. 

In meetings, they would over question her, clearly indicating she wasn’t supportive and lacked confidence in her abilities. 

And then, it accelerated to full-out character assignation and the JE started communicating mistruths about her behind closed doors to other executives.

The final blow came when the JE took the opportunity to seal her fate using a slight misstep in a project as proof of her ‘incompetence.’

She later left the company, and guess who took over the department? Team engagement soon plummeted as they brought in managers who were loyal to them. 

Eventually, every person on her team left the company.


Does the above sound familiar?

That’s because events like this happen every day in companies all across the globe. 

As the world at work has become increasingly competitive for coveted leadership roles, so has the need to address unexpected career derailers, especially those initiated at the hands of other, extremely competitive colleagues. 

Here’s why:

These overly competitive, low or mediocre performers (I call them imposter leaders) will target you at some point in your career, especially if you are talented, well-liked, respected, aspire to be a great leader, are a culture carrier, and display the highest of character. 

If you are a high performer (male or female), you will be targeted 100% of the time, women 70% of the time and, if you are a person of color, it will happen to you more than your white counterparts. Men aren’t immune either, with 35% reporting being targeted in the workplace (source).

For those who are targeted, it can set in motion the intended result—to diminish your otherwise stellar performance, to dull your shining star. 

Targeting can deflate your confidence, self-worth, reputation, and eventually your performance. 

You will begin to lose trust in an organization you once admired and protected. Some leave their employer and career behind. And most who are targeted report it has a profound and negative impact on their personal life.

But here’s the silver lining every aspiring leader and top performer needs to know:

They are targeting you because you are great.

Think of it this way: criminals do not target empty banks.

Your adversary is there to rob you of your performance, potential, and purpose. Unfortunately, you weren’t competing with them, but they are competing with you. If they can dull your shine or rob you of your performance, they have a better chance of standing out. 

Why do so many great leaders have difficulty navigating these workplace derailers?

Because great leaders typically do not recognize how great they really are, and most lack the skills required to combat such underhanded attacks. 

You see, great leaders are humble and focused on the organization and their people. They are givers, not takers. They lead with values and create value. They don’t seek or feed drama. Their focus isn’t on power but the power of the people they serve and creating success for the company that writes their paycheck. They serve the purpose of the organization with passion. They do the right thing all the time. 

That’s what makes them great and incredibly valuable to the organization. High-performing leaders can generate up to five times the profit of a low-performing leader. Yet it’s also what makes them a target to some.

So, what can you do? 

First, recognize that if you are a great or aspiring great leader, woman, or person of color, you have a high probability of being targeted in today’s workplace. 

Expect it, shocking as it is.

Second, learn how to expertly navigate your career risks initiated by imposter leaders so they have little impact on you, your personal life, and your career.  

We’ll show you how. 

In the next article of our three-part series, I’ll share with you the tactics imposter leaders use to take high-performing leaders off their trajectory. This will include their most used behaviors that are designed to misrepresent, intimidate and retaliate, with the sole purpose of minimizing your performance.

If you are aware of the tactics, they wield less power against you. It becomes a speed bump—or blip—versus a career roadblock. It’s like an athlete practicing for a high-impact game. The more you are prepared in skill and stamina, the easier it becomes. 

Until next time.

Related Read: Skip-Level Meetings: A Powerful Leadership Tool

Check This Out: Unlearning Leadership: How To Lead In The New World Of Work (with Bev Attfield from Within People)

Berta Aldrich
By Berta Aldrich

Berta Aldrich is the author of “Winning the Talent Shift: Three Steps to Unleashing the New High-Performance Workplace,” rated #1 book to buy on Company Culture and #3 on Customer Experience by Bookauthority. As an award-winning C-suite executive leader turned coach, keynote speaker, and author, she teaches executives at the most highly regarded companies how to turn their unique strategy and purpose into tangible outperformance. Find more on her website.