When Leaders Throw Team Members Under The Bus

This week, I’m teaching EntreLeadership here in Nashville. The topic of throwing team members under the bus is a common conversation. Here’s a post I wrote earlier this year on the topic.

As a leader, one of my pet peeves is watching other leaders not take responsibility. In fact, I think it’s ridiculous for a person to be in leadership if their only goal is to make themselves look good. And yet, I see it all of the time. I watch leaders who are very proud of the title but aren’t willing to do what is necessary to live up to it. They try to take on as many responsibilities as they can. When they fail, the first thing they do is blame one or more of their team members for the failure.

Worse than that, they throw those team members under the bus to their leadership in an attempt to get out of the line of fire. When you lead like this, you paralyze your team because they don’t know what you’re going to do to them next. They operate out of fear instead of respect and loyalty. And the funny thing is: This type of leader thinks that nobody notices that they are throwing people under the bus.

That’s not leadership! Nor is it for the leader above them, who doesn’t take the time to find out what’s really going on because they can’t handle drama. Guess what? In leadership, there’s going to be drama! It comes with the job. In fact, there should be a manual that you’re handed when you become a leader that’s titled, “Scotch and Psychiatrists: A Leader’s Guide to Drama!” (I’m kidding … You don’t need a psychiatrist! OK, you don’t need the Scotch, either. :-))

Leadership is the privilege and the authority to serve. The key word there being serve! It’s not my job as a leader to pass on blame. It’s my job to do everything in my power to make sure that my team is set up for success. And sometimes that means taking a bullet or twelve for them. In the end, if they don’t succeed, it’s my fault anyway. Somewhere along the line, I either didn’t train them well enough or I didn’t make sure they had everything they needed to be successful.

Get in there and be the type of leader who stands side by side with your team. Show them that you are willing to take the bullets with them. “But Chris, I have some real idiots on my team. I don’t want to take their bullets!” Then roll up your sleeves and do everything you possibly can to make sure that it’s not really you who is the problem. If you can say that you’ve done everything you can, and they’re still an idiot, then it’s time to let them be an idiot somewhere else. But, until you can rule you out, you’re the problem!

Question: Have you experienced this type of leader? 

Other Resources:

7 ways to lead a negative team member

7 simple ways to foster great communication on your team

DISC profiles guide

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Meet Chris LoCurto


Chris has a heart for changing lives by helping people discover the life and business they really want.

Decades of personal and leadership development experience, as well as running multi-million dollar businesses, has made him an expert in life and business coaching. personality types, and communication styles.

Growing up in a small logging town near Lake Tahoe, California, Chris learned a strong work ethic at home from his full-time working mom. He began his leadership and training career in the corporate world, starting but at E'TRADE.

29 thoughts on “When Leaders Throw Team Members Under The Bus”

  1. I used to be that kind of leader sometimes. Blaming others or other circumstances. I have since learned that honesty is the best policy. Both with customers (about delays) and employees on where the fault lies. (mainly between my ears)
    I had a coworker comment on a project: “I wouldn’t have told the customer the truth about not ordering a component in time. I would have made up an excuse about the delay.”

  2. One year my husband was part of a very bad team. His boss told him to “just handle it”. His boss should have been documenting the situation, keeping track of the trouble, and providing evidence that there was a record of very bad behavior. (My husband’s documentation wasn’t considered relevant.) Instead, he refused to use his power, and the same thing happened on up the chain of command.

    A few years later my husband’s boss talked to me about it all. He admitted to being afraid of the unions. This meant that union members could do anything they wanted (or do nothing) with no consequences.

    Don’t you wish you worked for the government? sigh.

  3. Thanks Chris. I enjoyed reading this post and those leaders are everywhere. I actually don’t call them leaders but rather position holders. Leading is serving, learning and growing which is not present with those types of people in authority.

    I loved your point about drama. I heard John Maxwell say more than once, leadership is messy, why would anyone won’t to be a leader? At his leadership level he was joking about the why, of course, but leadership is a lot of work and we have the pleasure of recieving the “whole” person. There is great joy in the fulfillment that I receive helping others to reach their full potential!

    It was an honor to share my heart with you.

  4. Kathleen Sitterly

    We all need to realize when we are tempted to throw someone under the bus, it may ultimately be us left standing with the shovel cleaning up the road kill, and eventually if that is how we choose to behave- it will be our turn next to be shoved into oncoming traffic. Lead with love and let go of fear.

  5. Throwing under the bus. This happens when the leader starts feeling insecure when other team members have more expertise. Then, the leader tries to safeguard himself by moing the compass to his subordinates.

    One can overcome this temptation through abundance mentality and sevant leadership attitude.

  6. Eric @golfingdad13

    Wow! This blog just defined my current employer’s M.O. So true.
    Entreleadership is showing me what is wrong with my current job and leading me to make a change. Suck in mid level management for local government, I’ve decided to try to influence my boss to change our culture, or remove myself from it.
    Thanks for yet more inspiration. This blog really hit home.

  7. I’ve met guys like and even have worked for them. It’s unfortunate because they think they are saving their own skin but what they don’t realize is that they are cutting their legs out from underneath them when they do this to their team members. It doesn’t help the organization and it doesn’t infuse loyalty from those around them. People of excellence don’t stay around long with people like this.

  8. Worked for somebody like that once. In my mind a leader should shield the team from a lot of this things allowing them to do what they do best. In this case the leader talked big, but wasn’t very consistent. We’d discuss things in project meetings, give recommendations based on our technical know-how, and then a couple days later we’d find out our fearlessleader had made different promises based on some other reasons. Made for a very uncomfortable environment, as we were afraid or not getting the support, and had to sort of figure out the political nature of things before giving any technical advice..

    I’m lucky to now work for the bestest (if the word doesn’t exist, i have just created it:)) leader, who based on past experience, would go under the bus for us, to push us out of the way. For this he garners a lot of respect and is able to get the best out of the team.

  9. Throwing under the bus. This happens when the leader starts feeling insecure when other team members have more expertise. Then, the leader tries to safeguard himself by moing the compass to his subordinates. One can overcome this temptation through abundance state of mind and sevant leadership attitude.

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