Leading with Loyalty and Betrayal

Many leaders measure their effectiveness by examining the loyalty of their people. They see it as a key ingredient for their success. When they perceive their employees to be disloyal, they feel let down, and even betrayed. Indeed, they might feel as if they have failed in their attempt to be a good leader.

But what if loyalty was not always important for good leadership? What if betrayal could be highly productive? And what if people, who “go against” their leaders in some form, are actually very important ingredients in the leadership of a high performance organisation?

In looking at leadership and organisations in this way, it’s important to keep in mind three key elements:

  • leadership is about the mobilisation of people rather than simply aligning them behind a plan;
  • both loyalty and betrayal are needed for high performance; and  lastly,
  • leaders need to distinguish between those who “go against them” for reasons of high performance in the organisation (we can call them “mavericks”) and those who are “rebels” – people who go against the grain of the organisation for reasons of self-interest.

As organisations face increasingly uncertain times, leaders need to fully engage their people in the business of the organisation. Simply focusing on alignment means you potentially lose out on the diverse array of skills and opinions available – and these are vital for an organisation to meet the challenges in uncertain times. In this way, the challenge for leaders is to find a good balance between conformity to organisational purpose and diversity of opinion.

Conformity to organisational purpose – or loyalty – produces a virtuous circle within organisations:

  • 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

However, there is also value in betrayal. In some cases, betrayal by people is motivated by a deep desire to serve the purpose of the organisation.

To be clear, betrayal in this instance refers to cases where a previous agreement has been betrayed because of a belief that this would better serve the overall purpose and values of the organisation. We can call this “virtuous” betrayal, and it may well be an ongoing part of effective leadership. As an example, agreements made at one point in time may not be in the best interests of the organisation at another point where conditions have changed. Therefore, the decision or action to “betray” the original plan may well lead to a better outcome for the organisation.

Loyal soldiers and automatons follow the organisation’s processes and agreed plans, while mavericks actively challenge these with their actions and decisions. While doing so, mavericks are nevertheless still aligned to the purpose and values of the organisation. They simply break the trust of an agreement in order to seek a better outcome.

There seems to be a strong case for increasingly utilising the skills of mavericks for the benefit of organisations in times of change. Mavericks are prepared to challenge the status quo, in order to achieve a better outcome. They become very valuable to organisations, and indeed, the very role played by leaders introducing change is one that encourages their people to “virtuously betray.”


  1. naveen bhai,bahut dino ki apki CASUAL chuppi ke bad kitab ki kaahbr faagun ki nayi hawa ki tarah aai.aap jis din kaho dehradun aakar ham dhang se celebrate karen……

Leave a Reply