I was recently at a meeting where a member shared that a teammate had committed an act that was incongruent with what we stood for. The member was clearly shaken as he recounted the events that had transpired. How could one of us who had been so close have done something so at odds with what we stood for?
Being prepared for leadership doesn’t just involve talking about the upside. It’s easy to recount only our successes and accomplishments. It’s also about being aware of the dark side of what can happen to a leader, and the most damaging event is when one of your own turns against you.
A traitor is someone who starts to tear down something that he once was trying to build up. I have experienced this devastating event several times in my life. In some cases I wasn’t completely surprised. I chose to ignore the subtle symptoms and hope for the best. In others, I was caught completely off guard.
The higher you climb in your role as a leader, the greater the risk of this happening. It is imperative that you, as the leader, always maintain your position. In the military we called it fraternization and there were clear rules against it. The troops don’t want you to be one of the boys, they want you to be the Officer in Charge. It’s tough, it’s even lonely, but it’s necessary. Whenever we get so close to subordinates that we treat them like surrogate siblings or friends, we lose our objectivity.
The other reason this happens to leaders is that they have something the traitor wants. And the traitor will work in a very supportive way until they gain access to the inner circle. They convince themselves all along that they are truly after what is best for the organization, but their hearts tell a different story.
It’s happened again and again throughout history. And unless you are surrounded by people with absolutely pure motives and hearts, which none of us are, it can happen to you. It’s just part of our human nature. Even the most righteous man is capable of evil acts.
So what do you do? Realize this is a fact of life. None of us is perfect and always pure in our motives. And realize that this is a part of life not designed to destroy you, but to make you wiser and stronger. Know those closest to you but keep a healthy professional distance, trust your instincts, and wear your scars with pride. Leadership is triumphant warfare. Don’t ever forget it.