Part of the "Living Organisation" s
I’ve been betrayed
During a major transformation program in an engineering business last year, a key project
was brought to a standstill when the CEO accused two key executives of betrayal. The
executives had gone outside the agreed plan by contacting a potential supplier with a view
to outsourcing an important part of the project. The CEO was intent on keeping the entire
project “in-house”, while the two executives in question believed that the entire
transformation program would be jeopardised by the organisation trying to undertake such
a key activity itself.
During the subsequent upheaval, one of the executives was relieved of her responsibilities
in the transformation program, and the other resigned shortly afterwards. As a
consequence, the program lost momentum and the positive feeling surrounding the
change was eroded.
While everyone agreed that the whole affair was regrettable, I began to question whether
the “betrayal” by the two executives had been correctly interpreted by the CEO - and
indeed, whether we needed to reexamine the real meaning of their actions.
Happily, we were able to turn the whole incident into a learning experience that was
subsequently built into the transformation program. The CEO was prepared to “re-
interpret” his executives’ behaviour and the transformation program was reinvigorated after
some time. My relationship with the CEO - although placed under some strain during the
incident - remained strong and we were able to explore the issues of loyalty and betrayal
in a new light. One that produced some interesting insights into how both loyalty and
betrayal can drive better performance.
Maverick or Rebel?
Dr Norman Chorn | email@example.com | www.normanchorn.com | www.centstrat.com
Leading with loyalty and
Leading with both
loyalty and betrayal
can improve the
What’s wrong with betrayal?
Many leaders consider loyalty from their people to be an important ingredient for their
success. Where their people are perceived to be disloyal, they feel betrayed and let down.
Some, as in the case I described above, feel as if they have failed in their attempt to be a
good leader. All in all, the degree of loyalty from followers is often used as a metric to
assess how effective you are as a leader.
But what if loyalty was not always important for good leadership? What if betrayal could be
highly productive? And what if the mavericks, who “go against you” in their acts of betrayal,
are actually important ingredients in the leadership of a high performance organisation?
I learned three important lessons in my experience with the engineering business:
1. Leadership is about the mobilisation of people rather than simply aligning them behind
2. Both loyalty and betrayal are needed for high performance
3. Leaders need to distinguish between mavericks and rebels - and treat them quite
Leadership is about mobilising your people
Conditions of uncertainty and change mean that effective organisations are continuously
aware of their environment and focus on adaptation. Their people are participants in the
ongoing process of setting and executing strategy and the renewal of the organisation’s
capabilities. To encourage participation, leaders have to do more than simply get their
people aligned. They have to mobilise them and get them them fully engaged in the
business of the organisation.
When people are mobilised behind an organisation’s purpose, they bring their full array of
skills and opinions to bear on the issues and challenges faced by the organisation. And
because these skills and opinions are diverse, the organisation beneﬁts from a rich array
of options and possibilities.
The leadership challenge is to achieve a good balance between the diversity of opinion
and conformity to organisational purpose. Mobilising your people is about providing the
clarity of purpose as well as the structure that gives people the ﬂexibility to work out the
best way forward. The key key elements of mobilising you people are:
a) focus relentlessly on the purpose of the organisation (note: this is not proﬁtability)
b) encourage people to take responsibility for solving problems in which they have a
stake - the people are both the problems and the solutions
c) facilitate learning and experimentation within predetermined limits
d) shape a culture that is both conservative (keep that which is worthy) and
progressive (adopt new and better ways of doing things)
e) provide air-cover for your people - and accept that some failure is inevitable.
Loyalty and betrayal are needed for high performance
There are two related points to note here. The ﬁrst is that loyalty produces a virtuous circle
that drives high performance in organisation. This is a relatively well know fact and it
relates to the beneﬁts of loyal staff and loyal customers.
The second point relates to the value of betrayal in certain aspects of leadership. This is a
more complex issue.
1. The virtuous circle of loyalty
Having loyal customers and staff produce real beneﬁts for the organisation by
creating the virtuous circle depicted above1. Four key elements describe this
• effective leadership produces loyal staff
• loyal staff deliver value-adding products and services
• value-adding creates loyal customers
• appropriate metrics measure customer loyalty so as to reward staff.
People display loyalty to leaders once trust is established between the two parties.
This trust is based on three key elements2:
• does the leader acknowledge our capabilities and contribution? (Competence
• does the leader keep agreements and display consistency in dealing with us?
• does the leader communicate openly and honestly? (Communication Trust)
The contribution to performance by high levels of loyalty is well explained by this
1 Fred Reicheld, Loyalty-Based Management, Harvard Business Review, March 1993
2 Dennis and Michelle Reina, Building Sustainable Trust, Organisation Development Network, 2007
2. The value of betrayal
From the analysis above, we can deﬁne betrayal as the breaking of trust between
the two parties. In the engineering business described above, the CEO clearly felt
that the trust between him and his two executives was broken as they had not
followed the plan agreed to by the team.
But what if the breaking trust is motivated by a deep desire to serve the purpose of
the organisation? What if the betrayal is directed towards the agreed plan rather
than the overall purpose served by the plan?
The latin origin of the word (betrayal) is interesting - it means to “give oneself over
to a higher purpose”3. While the usage of the term has changed over time, we
should consider the possibility that leaders and executives may well be betraying
people/ breaking trust in the organisation as they pursue change initiatives. Indeed,
if one of the roles of leadership is to continuously seek adaptation to a changing
environment, we may well consider betrayal as one of the elements of effective
Before we cast leaders as the villain in the piece, let’s be clear that we are not
referring to those forms of betrayal where the individual places self interest ahead of
the interests of the organisation. If the executives in the engineering case were
seeking an outside contractor because they had been bribed with a sum of money,
this would be classiﬁed as corrupt and even criminal behaviour.
Instead, we are referring to cases where a previous agreement has been betrayed
because the leader or executive believes this would better serve the overall
purpose and values of the organisation. This “virtuous” betrayal may well be an
ongoing part of effective leadership if we consider leadership’s role in introducing
change and ensuring organisational adaptation. For example, agreements made
and undertakings given at one point in time may not be in the best interests of the
organisation at another point where conditions have changed. This was my
argument in favour of the two executives who were accused of betraying the CEO
in the engineering case study.
In order for this form of betrayal to be considered virtuous, the decision or action
should lead to a better outcome for the organisation, and should be motivated by a
desire to further the interests of the organisation.
Mavericks aren’t rebels
I believe that our engineering CEO would have found it useful to make a distinction
between “mavericks” and “rebels”. While both seemingly betray the organisation, they do
so in different ways and for different reasons.
3 James Krantz, Leadership, betrayal and adaptation, Human Relations, Vol 59(2), 2006
Both loyal soldiers and automatons follow the organisation’s processes and agreed plans,
while the rebels and mavericks actively challenge these with their actions and decisions.
However, the key difference is that mavericks are aligned to the purpose and values of the
organisation, and “betray” the organisation (ie break the trust of an agreement) in order to
seek a better outcome. Rebels, on the other hand, are motivated by a desire to further
their own or other interests.
I suggest that the two executives in the engineering business were mavericks. They
believed that the transformation agenda of the organisation would be better served if a key
element of the process was outsourced to a third party contractor. And they took the
initiative to test this out by discussing it with an outside contractor. In so doing, they
“betrayed” the plan that had been previously agreed to by the executive. It could be
argued that they should have sought permission to do so beforehand, but they formed the
view that they would have a stronger case if they had the facts at hand before bringing this
to the attention of the CEO (They were correct! It is unlikely that this CEO would have
agreed without a time consuming evaluation process. And the delay could have
compromised the timeline of the proposed transformation program).
This is often the case with mavericks. They may act on an intuitive hunch ﬁrst and seek
permission afterwards. It is their willingness to challenge the status quo and seek out
better ways that makes them potentially so valuable to organisations in times of change.
I suggest the process of adaptation and change requires more mavericks - people who are
prepared to think for themselves and “betray” the agreed ways of doing things. Indeed, the
very role played by leaders in introducing change is one that requires a healthy dose of
Not aligned with the
purpose and values
Aligned with the
purpose and values
Leading for high performance
So what can we learn about the contribution of loyalty and betrayal to improved
performance in organisations? You have no doubt formed your own views, but here are a
few that really stand out for me:
1. Leaders improve performance by mobilising their people rather than simply
attempting to align them
2. Leading change and adaptation is a key task of leadership in these uncertain
2. Successful change leadership requires an appropriate balance between
loyalty and betrayal
3. Loyalty produces a virtuous circle that results in improved organisational
4. Betrayal enables behaviour that challenges the status quo - essential during
times of change and adaptation
5. Distinguishing between mavericks and rebels allows leaders to balance
loyalty and betrayal appropriately.
Norman conducts workshops in
strategy and organisation design.
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