Been Thrown Under The Bus Lately?

Have you ever been thrown under the bus? We all have. I certainly have spent some time under the bus. I recall a time I was thrown under the bus by my team leader through an email. I cannot recall any time in my career where I have been angrier. In that moment I am sure if I had opened my mouth fire would have come out! After I read the email I immediately grab my keys, went to my car, and exhaled. Several questions raced through my mind.

  • Why would my team leader not come speak to me directly?
  • Why would my team leader not get all the details first before making this accusation?
  • Why would my team leader copy everyone?
  • Why would my team leader exaggerate the situation?

What I realized in that moment is this had nothing to do with me but everything to do with my team leader.  According to the Urban Dictionary the term “throwing someone under the bus” can be defined as:

To sacrifice some other person, usually one who is undeserving or at least vulnerable, to make personal gain.


Is there a person in your office that is a “serial thrower?” You see them roaming the hallways looking for unsuspecting pedestrians. This is the person that if someone makes a mistake or there is a hint of a problem they make sure everyone in your office knows about it. The serial thrower lays it on thick, exaggerates the story, and pushes all the right buttons. Now, I want to be clear. There is nothing wrong with identifying problems or catching mistakes. In order to get better organizations must identify problems and alleviate them. However, our serial thrower takes it to the next level. They do not go to the person that made the mistake or that can solve the problem. Determining all the facts to understand what really happened would be too easy. They are in search of the big audience. Here it comes, the email with everyone cc’ed and blind copied including the guy who was there to fix the copier earlier today. You are walking down the street enjoying the scenery….BAM!!!! You have just been thrown under of the bus. Ever experienced this?

Let’s delve into the psyche of a serial thrower. In the definition earlier we said they do this for personal gain. What is it that they have to gain? Well, they are trying to do one of two things; serial throwers are focusing attention on or away from themselves.

First, let’s deal with the person who is trying to attract attention. They want everyone to know they are looking out for the company. “I am just trying to make us better”, they say. They may indeed want the company to be better. The reason for throwing you under the bus is they need everyone to know how good they are (or at least how good they think they are). It is more about them than the company. You are just an innocent by-stander. If they truly cared about the company above themselves they would first get all the details surrounding the problem. Once the details have been collected they would go to the person(s) directly involved and look for a solution. If a solution is not found then a decision could be made on what additional team members need to be involved to solve the problem. This would do two things. First, it would ensure that someone is not cast in a bad light because the situation was misunderstood or exaggerated. Second, it would foster a culture of trust and strengthen the team.

Equally as dangerous to organizations are serial throwers looking to focus attention away from themselves. They throw others under the bus to divert attention away from their own mistakes, lack of follow-up, or miscommunication. They blame others instead of taking responsibility for their actions. These serial throwers are most likely under performers. They have an excuse for everything. It is always the other person or department’s fault.

Serial throwers erode trust and destroy team spirit. The effects are multiplied when that person is in a leadership role. A leader who is a serial thrower will never build a strong team. They will set an example that will encourage others to embrace the same behavior. Leaders should not allow their team to throw others under the bus. We all know when someone is throwing another under the bus. As the “thrower’s” team leader you should go to them directly and address the issue. Ask them if they attempted to speak to the person before sending the email. Tell them directly that the behavior is unacceptable and is not the proper way to solve issues. Speak with them about how your company’s mission statement, core values, and culture dictate how to address issues. When issues, problems, and mistakes are handled correctly it improves communications, collaborations, and team dynamics.

The next time you find yourself “under the bus” here are some tips on how to recover.

  1. Do not react in anger or get defensive. Take a breath and be the adult.
  2. Research the full scope of the problem or issue.
  3. Go speak directly in person with the “thrower” to discuss problem and agree to solution.
  4. Then respond to the email originally sent fully explaining the issue, accepting any responsibility necessary, outlining your discussion with the thrower (do not call them “the thrower”), and summarize the solution to the problem.
  5. Take pleasure in the fact that you took the high road…That is where great leaders travel!

Share this with your colleagues. If you are worried about sending this to the serial thrower on your team; send me a message and I will make sure it mysteriously shows up in their email box!!!

Let me know what you are thinking!

Comment below.

About Kareem Slater

Kareem Slater is a leadership coach, trainer, & speaker. Founder of The Purple Approach. Helps organizations lead and engage their team by focusing on their Mission Statement and Core Values. Uses his passion to help others grow their leadership skills and accomplish their career goals.


  1. GREAT article!!! Well played sir!

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