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Mental Fitness

Screen Candidates for Saboteurs

screen candidates for saboteurs

Published July 27, 2019
by Positive Intelligence

(Note: I wrote this post at the request of for inclusion in their Resource Center for Recruiting and Hiring Advice.)

You may have experienced it: job candidates who are poised throughout the interview process, check out well on resume and references, who then dash your hopes shortly after they’re hired.

One way to avoid this type of hiring mistakes is to screen for Positive Intelligence.

Positive Intelligence is a measure of one’s degree of self-sabotage. In my lectures on Positive Intelligence at Stanford, I reveal 10 mental “Saboteurs” that undermine or derail us.  These sneaky characters have names like Controller, Judge, Avoider, and Stickler.  95% of the executives in the Stanford program report that one or more of these Saboteurs cause “significant harm” to both their performance and personal fulfillment.

Every candidate you interview, and for that matter everyone you know, is being undermined by some Saboteurs.  The question is how strong they are.  Since Saboteurs become more visible under stress, you might not easily see them in the controlled interview environment.  They will show their true faces under the real stress of the real job.

Saboteurs are the internal enemies. They are a set of automatic and habitual mind patterns, each with its own voice, beliefs, and assumptions that work against our best interest.  To illustrate, when our mind tells us that we should prepare for tomorrow’s important meeting, it is acting as our friend, causing positive action.  When it wakes us up at 3:00 a.m. anxious about the meeting and warning us for the hundredth time about the many consequences of failing, it is acting as our enemy; it is simply exhausting our mental and physical resources without any redeeming value.  No friend would do that.

Saboteurs start off as our guardians to help us survive the real and imagined threats to our physical and emotional survival as children.  For example, the Judge Saboteur represents a bias for noticing and exaggerating the negative.  This bias is a critical evolutionary design for our ancestors to have survived the dangers of the jungle.  When the tree leaves started shaking, the early human who assumed the worst and ran from an imagined tiger was the one that survived and passed his genes.

By the time we are adults, these Saboteurs are no longer needed, but they have become invisible inhabitants of our mind. They form the lens through which we see and react to the world, without knowing we are wearing any lens.  This means that most your job candidates are unaware they actually have Saboteurs, so simply asking them would not be productive.

There are a few ways for you to remedy that.  You can have them take the online Saboteur assessment and discuss their results with you.  Or they can take the PQ Score assessment.  PQ stands for Positive Intelligence Quotient and shows the percentage of time someone’s mind is serving them as opposed to sabotaging them.  Ideally you want a candidate who scores above 75, which is the tipping point PQ score for optimal performance.  Both these assessments require honest responses to be accurate, but you can still detect a lot from the way candidates present and discuss their results.  (find both free assessments at

Another way for you to screen would be to probe during the interview for specific Saboteurs that appear likely based on someone’s strengths.  Saboteurs often represent the dark side of what someone considers to be their strength.  For example, someone priding themselves on attention to detail might suffer the Stickler Saboteur.  Many leaders with a forceful and confident style suffer the Controller Saboteur.  Someone who is good at relationship harmony might suffer the Pleaser or Avoider Saboteurs.  The following table offers a summary.



Subverted Strength





Discernment, responsibility and accountability Focus on negative in self, others, or circumstances Unless I constantly point to what’s wrong, nothing will improve


Confidence and initiative Need to always control and dominate Controlling always ensures best outcome


Detail orientation and organization Need for order and perfection taken too far Perfectionism is always the preferred way


Appreciation and positivity

Avoid difficult or unpleasant tasks and conflicts.  Procrastinate

I am just being positive.  No good comes out of dealing with conflict


Flexibility and risk tolerance Constant need for busyness.  Rarely at peace with current activity This is the way to accomplish and experience the most


Caring and compassion Constantly helping, pleasing, or rescuing others, hoping to be liked I do this to help and expect nothing in return


Emotional self-awareness Continuous focus on painful and deflating emotions This is my best way to attract attention and affection


Objectivity and logic Over-application of the rational function in dealing with people and emotions Emotions are useless distractions.  Greatest leader strength is logic


Reliability and dependability Continuous intense anxiety about dangers and what could go wrong Best way to protect self and others is through hyper-vigilance


Goal and achievement orientation Narrow focus on achievement to the detriment of relationships, balance and perspective Greatest success comes from achievement-at-all-cost

Resume and references only point to potential.  Screen for Positive Intelligence if you want people who will actually reach their true potential.  And remember, strong Saboteurs don’t have to be career derailers, so long as Positive Intelligence tools are used to conquer them.