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Being targeted can debilitate your life—and career.

Yet, if managed properly, you can minimize its negative effect and turn it into a positive tipping point that propels you and your career forward.

Here’s how. 

Today, if you are ambitious, want to be a great leader, or have eyes on the executive ranks, it is imperative that you proactively prepare to navigate career risks initiated by imposter leaders

These deceptive leaders are low or mediocre performers, overly competitive, and often leverage their position and power to minimize those around them—especially high performers.

The good news is if you are aware of their tactics, they wield less power against you.

But, if one of these imposters have zeroed in on you, here are the most common tactics they will use and tips on how you can successfully navigate their advances.

1. They Use The Element Of Surprise And Drama To Their Advantage

Imposter leaders use the element of surprise to bait you into acting irrationally and unprofessionally so they can use it against you. 

Examples include isolating you in an office then inflicting bizarre behavior such as shouting untrue accusations or gaslighting you. Or they may use physical intimidation, such as standing as you sit or glaring at you nonstop without saying a word. 

Naturally, the common reaction is one of disbelief. Your heart will start beating out of your chest, creating a fight or flight response—which will not help you in this situation. So what should you do?

Remain calm and manage the situation. Do not react.

Instead, take some slow, deep breaths to slow your heart rate and say to yourself, “this is all an act.” Your job at that very moment is to turn from the target into a detective. 

It will immediately shift the power dynamic and put you on a level playing field in your mind.

Next, remain silent and let them give their best performance.

Take word-for-word notes. If they tell you to stop, keep taking them. When the accusations stop, calmly validate what you are hearing—“so what you are asserting is...” Then ask them, “What is the best way to resolve the issue?” 

This response does two things: 1. focuses on the solution and 2. will prove your weight in gold if the targeting advances. 

If they cannot respond with a viable answer, it not only validates this is a setup but that they don’t have HR’s blessing to behave in this manner. 

Then immediately meet with HR in person to recount your experience and ask for their help.

That evening at home, document every conversation, the time it happened, and with whom. Get as detailed as you can, including meeting room numbers. 

Include how it made you feel in the moment. This documentation is imperative for many reasons, which we will cover in part 3.

2. Character Assasination

The second most popular tactic used by imposters is minimizing you by lying about a situation, your character, or anything that can make you look poor in the eyes of the audience without your presence. 

This tactic can be used initially or as retaliation. They’re doing this for two reasons: 1. to chip away at your stellar reputation, and 2. to create loyalty from others who can join their team and be their eyes and ears. 

Imposters are cowards by nature who easily manipulate others to help carry out their sinister activities.  

So what should you do if you hear an imposter is spreading lies about you?

If you have an employee handbook, research its pages to determine the company’s stance and how to resolve an unprovoked bullying or aggression situation with a boss or peer. Not a personality conflict. Not a performance issue. But bullying and aggression.

Then follow the advice on how best to resolve. 

If you do not have an employee handbook but have a good HR department, make an appointment with them and ask for their counsel on how best to approach a hypothetical situation. It’s hypothetical because the information you are receiving is hearsay. The imposter can deny it all. 

Don’t use names. The goal is to understand how best to handle the situation. And then take their advice and follow up with them after, in writing. 

If you don’t have someone internally to turn to, find resources outside your workplace to help you manage the situation with excellence and professionalism. 

It is also a good idea to research your state laws on bullying, aggression, and retaliation to ensure your employer follows the letter of the law.

You can also use the resources in the back of my book as a starting point.

And remember, you have the power to take control of how you respond. Don’t be baited into behaving irrationally or incongruent with who you are. You did not ask for this conflict, but you need to respond to it professionally. Consider it a challenge to sharpen critical tools in your leadership toolbox. 

3. Establishing Unrealistic Expectations

The third and most powerful tactic an imposter manager uses to eliminate talented competition is to establish unrealistic expectations that set you up for failure or are overly critical of your annual performance. 

Your best offense in this situation is to understand your performance management system at your organization intimately. 

Here’s why:

Imposter leaders typically go rogue, making up their own rules. The good news is that Human Resources has become very concerned with these antics because it puts the company at risk (any variation from the norm or employee handbook is rogue).

You now have two next steps:

1. If they are not following protocol, you need to get a third person involved, so schedule a meeting with HR and the imposter to clarify expectations moving forward.

Note: most HR departments will not overturn year-end appraisals, so always write and attach an official rebuttal. Both will alert HR to their antics. 

2. You need to determine the imposter’s bigger play at hand. Most often, it is because they have a larger strategic agenda in motion, and their plans may not include you. 

As a high performer, to be successful, you must report to a leader who, at a minimum, doesn’t stand in your way or, worse, is set on decreasing your performance! 

And you definitely don’t want to work for a company that allows it.

Expect more from your leader and company. And tolerate nothing less.

Imposters are slippery and will deny, lie, cheat and steal to get what they want. 

So don’t be a casualty. 

The key is to educate yourself before the situation occurs. Preparedness is always the hallmark of a top performer, and this is no exception. 

In our last and final article, I will share how the power of choice will help you turn targeting into empowerment - and career success. 

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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.