18 Nov The Five Faces of a “False Advocate”
Of the eleven inherent leader Risks that we measure, False Advocate is the toughest for people to deal with or to openly acknowledge. In fact, I continue to have executive coaches tell me that they think that this term is too harsh and overly negative.
I agree it is not a complimentary, endearing, or a neutral scale title. It is not intended to be. When Kimberly (Brinkmeyer) Leveridge, Ph.D. and I developed this assessment report in 1998, our intention was to be direct, impactful and clear. In fact, we did not want to soften the blow so to speak. Leaders, as we saw it, needed a wake up call to inspire action to prevent their own inherent Risk Factors from detracting from their performance effectiveness and relationships.
We could have used a variety of terms to describe this construct such as: covert dissenter, quiet contrarian, passive resister – however, for us, the words “False Advocate” were unmistakably clear. The idea is pretending to agree and support (or advocate) outwardly while not actually supporting at all (with false) internal defiance. Our original definition in the CDR Leadership Risk Assessment is as follows:
False Advocate – This scale represents behaviors that are passively detrimental-they are not always obvious to those who are being acted out against-but serve to undermine agendas, go against the status quo, or put up barriers to success. Leaders with high scores appear outwardly supportive and on-board while sabotaging effectiveness through defiance, resentment, procrastination and resistance. False advocates regularly betray the trust of others though it may take time for their behavior to be revealed because of the covert nature of their activities. Examples: Blaming others for failure to perform; saying one thing and doing another; and, not living up to commitments.
However, for the record, as a seasoned executive coach and one who trains and mentors coaches on the assessments, I personally find this to be one of the most intriguing and mysterious of the Risks. At certification training, we remind coaches that this is usually the toughest Risk to identify as a behavior of their respective leader client because it is covert. The other fascinating aspect about this particular Risk is that it can manifest in very different ways and has different “faces.”
It is important to note that Risk Factors, including the False Advocate traits, tend to show or manifest under stress, adversity or conflict. They can be described as ineffective coping strategies that can undermine one’s performance, relationships, and success.
The degree of negative fallout from False Advocate tendencies can range from minuscule to dire in terms of the level of performance impact. This largely depends on the combination of the leader’s other Risk Factors (as well as some of their CDR Character traits).
Below are The Five Faces of a False Advocate that we have identified (the ratings – 1 being minuscule impact to 5 being potentially devastating):
1. Polite Dissenter / Victim or Martyr
This is fairly common and is often the result of region, religion and culture. For example, in the “Bible Belt” or those from India (with Hindu heritage) have often been raised to be polite always and not to be in any way objectionable. In other words, they are taught from an early age that it is improper and rude to disagree with someone in front of others. So, they don’t. They hold in their dissenting thoughts and comply, even though it may be a bad decision or put undue burden on them. They suffer, as a victim, in silence. Or, behind your back they may complain, vent or gossip, but usually do not covertly act against. The polite dissenter usually hurts themselves the most by failure to push back and suffering the consequences.
2. Time Hoarder/ Procrastinator
To this time hog, their calendar is the most important calendar of all. In fact, they often secretly resist by being late for appointments or meetings they did not schedule, or they are known to cancel at the last minute to show dissent. Also, while they go silent when agreements or plans are reached, they silently drag their feet and procrastinate because they were never truly “on board” themselves, at least in their minds.
3. Closet Controller / Covert Resister
Those with a secret agenda often have a need for control, though they pretend they are going along. So, they present as “all in,” though behind the scenes they often plan and execute on their own plans or goals that are contrary to original agreements and the expectations of others. This can be damaging because they breach trust when others learn that this False Advocate was working against the team, or acknowledged plan, for their own interests all along. Additionally, this person will tend to hold too much information back from others. Hidden information is a source of private power can serve as a safety net for them.
4. Back Stabber / Negative Politician
This type of False Advocate behavior can be hurtful and destructive, and is more prevalent in certain occupations. Litigators, labor negotiators, politicians are examples. Their roles usually involve manipulation, subterfuge, and secrets as part of the typical tactics deployed. The Back Stabber’s traits may manifest when connected with other Risk factors such as Egotist, Rule Breaker, and Cynic. It also may show once the person feels betrayed, belittled or wronged in some way. Or, if they feel bypassed, they may act against others, all the while acting as though kind, endearing, and on board. When they strike, their intended opponent usually doesn’t see it coming, making the fallout more damaging. We have experience with this type of False Advocate who actually worked against the interests of the company, conspiring with a competitor, while seeming happy in his job all the while.
5. Stealth Saboteur
This type of False Advocate can be devastating to an organization. Fortunately, this is a quite rare profile that combines charm, warmth, charisma, and cleverness, as measured on their CDR Character Assessment, with some very dark combinations of Risks. This mix includes significant scores on False Advocate, Egotist, Rule Breaker, Cynic, and Upstager.
Years ago, we went through a difficult experience with a Stealth Sabateur who was a consultant we were contracting with at the time. We ignored warning signals in the CDR 3D Suite data set of the consultant because she was far away and we had limited contact with her. She seemed to be tremendously talented and had an impressive client list. What we didn’t know is that behind the infectious charm, she was inappropriately using our materials. When we presented the facts we had learned in a meeting with her, she had a Jekyll and Hyde transformation launching into an unrecognizable angry narcissistic rage. We ultimately paid a heavy price in legal fees and time protecting our business interests. This could have been avoided had we heeded her assessment results up front. We learned an important lesson and, since then, only align with those who share our values and whose assessment results meet our requirements.
Bottom line is the Stealth Saboteur is so suave, savvy, charming, and intelligent, damage can be done long before the organization has a clue.
Fortunately, most False Advocates fall into #1 and #2 above, Polite Dissenters / Victims to Time Hoarders / Closet Controllers.
Coaching the False Advocate has its own set of challenges and, as said previously, can be the toughest risk to help clients open up about. The key to improving is to acknowledge that the “going silent”, rather than “speaking up” in the moment when the False Advocate disagrees, or feels pushed upon, is where the trouble starts. So, if the person would just speak up more in the moment, this would prevent the False Advocate after-the-fact moving against behaviors from derailing trust or success.
A tactic that can work for the False Advocate is to ask questions rather than to just go silent in seeming agreement or compliance. Or another tactic that False Advocates often use with success is to say, rather than nodding in agreement immediately, “let me give it some thought and I’ll get back with you.” It can be difficult for the False Advocate to immediately vocalize dissent. Therefore, buying time to think in order to later articulate a candid point of view, or to allow time without pressure to formulate questions to facilitate further discussion, can be helpful.
Last, a few behavioral questions for executive coaches or hiring managers to ask False Advocates are:
- What do you do if someone at work tries to pressure you to do something out of the scope of your responsibilities or that has low value?
- Have you occasionally been late to meetings that you didn’t think were necessary since they interfered with your real priorities?
- Do you suffer in silence when decisions are made that disrupt your priorities?
- What causes you to procrastinate? Can you give an example?
- Sometimes working “behind the scenes” can achieve more than confronting issues openly. Are you skilled at this? What was your best accomplishment when deploying this tactic.
- Clearly, we cannot and should not fight every battle. Tell me about a time you went silent rather than argue and then later regretted that decision.
Nancy Parsons is the CEO/President and Co-Founder of CDR Assessment Group, Inc.based in
Sugar Land, TX. CDR provides unmatched assessments and consulting/coaching services for
leadership development and talent management for global clients. CDR was founded in 1998 in
Tulsa, OK and has been a WBENC certified corporation since 2000 (WBEA affiliated). Nancy is also a member of The Alexcel Group, an international alliance of highly experienced consultants
and executive coaches supplying the very best expertise in talent development.
For more information on this topic, including addition interview questions and resources
available on this Risk and about the CDR Leadership Risk Assessment, please contact us at
firstname.lastname@example.org or call 281-207-5470 or 918-600-5728.
The additional 10 Leadership Risk Factors we measure include: Worrier, Cynic, Perfectionist,
Rule Breaker, Upstager, Egotist, Pleaser, Hyper Moody, Detached and Eccentric.
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