If you're serious about leadership, then one of your golden rules is to act with integrity and truth--that is, manipulating others solely so you can emerge the victor isn't in your playbook. But just because you play by the rules and are transparent doesn't mean that others will reciprocate.
You will encounter people who deceive you, and generally, they do so because they've internalized the idea that second place isn't good enough. They're so afraid of being seen as second or being put into a position of financial or other insecurity that they throw you under the bus. Less commonly, you might encounter a true narcissist who honestly believes that they're entitled to win at all costs. In either case, your success depends on ending their underhanded tactics.
Here are some ways to guard yourself against people who may try to manipulate you.
1. Surround yourself with knowledgeable, supportive people.
If the manipulator isolates you, then you become like a wounded gazelle on the business Serengeti--it's much harder for you to consider alternate opinions and ideas, as well as to get general information that could transform your decision making. With no one else to turn to, you're more likely to see the manipulator as an expert friend, even when they aren't.
2. Remind yourself constantly of your goals and priorities.
Manipulators are out for themselves, so they will do everything in their power to try to change your dream or discredit it. This can everything from overtly telling you you're not going to succeed to pressuring you to take projects that are below your capabilities or that don't align with your chosen path.
Clarify for yourself every day what you are after and the purpose each task serves for you so that the manipulator can't convince you to shift course. This focus will keep you from getting too negatively emotionally invested if the manipulator creates logistical or relationship difficulties for you, as well.
3. Communicate your intent.
Connected to the above point, manipulators may try to spread disinformation about you or your work, or they might not give you the information you need to move forward properly. The more you tell others verbally or in writing what you want to accomplish and believe in, the harder it is for the manipulator to convince others to intentionally or unintentionally work against you.
You paint the picture of who you are, rather than the manipulator providing their interpretation. For this purpose, the more witnesses you have to what you say, the better, and always back up and secure your records.
4. Call it like you see it.
One reason manipulators behave so poorly, even if they're just scared of failing, is because they honestly think they can do it and not get caught. They hold onto their egos and convince themselves they are too skilled with systems and people to have their schemes uncovered, or they cling to the feeling that because they've never encountered a consequence, they somehow can continue to luckily escape it. Shake up this delusion with an unavoidable confrontation in which you tell them what you've observed and how it's affected you.
To perform your confrontation effectively, you need to prepare by tracking the manipulator's offenses, complete with specific actions, dates and the names of everyone involved. However, the confrontation does not have to be a rude battle. Simply lay out the facts in a considerate way and present the options for moving forward. Once the manipulator knows that you know, they'll be less likely to keep messing with you, especially if you detail the potential for appropriate reports to superiors or HR.
As you try to protect yourself, remember that leaders use psychology all the time to manipulate their teams for good--perks are a common example, as is providing feedback in strategic ways or subtly convincing a tired employee to go home. The difference is that good leaders care about the team getting ahead, rather than about their own personal gain. If you can teach an ill-intentioned manipulator how to drop their ego or fear and do the same, everyone wins.