Guerrillas in the Midst

Guerrillas at Work

Are you working with guerrillas in your midst?

Business is descending into all those clichés again: “dog eat dog”, “rat race”, “law of the jungle.’ Those not able to compete fairly will have to take the gloves off and fight dirty.

Warning people: we have guerrillas in the midst.

When working with guerrillas, think of a hand grenade with the pin out – you can scrabble around trying to put it back in and suffer serious damage, or you can accept the situation and get safe distance between you and the danger. It’s about damage limitation and staying alive.

Knowing The Terrain

Guerrillas hang around senior staff telling them about all the great teamwork they’re doing; all the problems they’ve solved whilst juxtaposing this against the ‘failures’ of people like you.

Truth doesn’t matter – this is all about perception.

Don’t assume you’ll straighten all this out in some fact-finding exercise, that ain’t going to happen. Guerrillas utilise gossip as a means of undermining your position and creating unsubstantiated doubt in the mind of your bosses.

Disguising their intentions, they’ll offer flattery and favours in front of the boss. Not wishing to seem maverick, you’re left to accept the offers without realising you’re now validating the gossip and rumour the guerrilla started – you’re incompetent and need their help.

Gathering Ammunition

Remember that police caution:

“….Anything you do or say may be taken down and given against you as evidence….”

Same rules apply!

Starting Ground Assault

Target lulled into a false sense of security, it’s time to strike. Withholding information; giving mixed messages across the teams and keeping everyone confused and divided, they’ll start to interpret what’s going for the boss, adding their own malignant slant.

Having created the illusion they’re a “team player.” they’ll now set about trying to surreptitiously show your “incompetence” and confirm their earlier gossiping.

Meetings become increasingly dangerous as seemingly random; “off the cuff” comments and questions fly, catching the target ill-prepared and off guard.

Fail to adequately respond and you’ll look incompetent, reinforcing the suggestions previously whispered behind your back; overreact and you’ll look incompetent and be seemingly aggressive toward Saint Colleague who’s been working hard to give you all the help they can.

Sit on the fence and the guerrilla will become passive aggressive – that subtle manipulation which backs you in to a corner in a play which suggests you’re indecisive and/or incapable of making a decision.

Your Survival Kit

Hold Your Ground

You need to have some strategies of your own to avoid becoming a casualty of war.

  • Asked for information you weren’t expecting? Gently ask why they need it, it wasn’t part of the meeting’s agenda and therefore you haven’t prepared but you’ll have the information with them shortly. If it’s that important, ask for a short recess whilst you get the data they so urgently required right now.
  • Find it hard to pin them down. If your requests are met with verbal gymnastics, try summarising what they’ve said and ask for a definitive response, complete with commitments on time; resource; desired outcomes etc. Don’t stop until you’ve pinned them down.
  • Knocking all your ideas in front of the boss? Ask them what their solutions are. Guerrillas make themselves look smarter by knocking your ideas but don’t be sucked in, put it back to them – what are their suggestions. If they don’t know what the answer is, they can’t possibly know what it’s not so point out they’ve rejected your ideas off hand and emphasise their unreasonable behaviour without having to say another word.
  • Beware silence – guerrillas know that people hate silence and feel compelled to fill that void with rambling. Don’t do it – you’ll say or do something you’ll regret later. If the silence continues, ask if they’re done and excuse yourself; you’ve got other stuff that needs your attention.

Give them the Command

Guerrillas are incompetent leaders, so put them in charge at every opportunity, involve them in everything and let their own incompetence be their ultimate downfall. Don’t try to alienate them, as the old adage goes “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

Fight another Day

Above all, when the flash attack commences, stay calm and congruent. Stay true to yourself and eventually the guerrilla will be seen for what they are.

You can afford to lose the battle and still win the war. Keep your team on side, stick to your principles and leave the guerrilla exposed. They’re ill prepared for a long, drawn out battle but that’s exactly what you want.

Colin Millar is Operations Manager for the CRBS in Scotland
He is an Official Ambassador of the Chartered Management Institute and EFQM Business Excellence Practitioner & Assessor

Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook | Skype: colin_b_millar

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L2L Contributing Author


  1. Chadwick Taylor on July 20, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    Really enjoyed the analogy. Very good article.

    • Colin Millar on July 21, 2011 at 5:29 am

      Many thanks for the feedback, very much appreciated.