Betrayal | No BS Leadership Advice

By Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter

Betrayal occurs when someone does not live up to expectations. A study of 700 employees conducted by Hogan Assessment Systems found that nearly 80 percent of respondents had been the victim of betrayal.

Once it has happened once, it is difficult to separate the fear of betrayal from its reality of in the workplace, particularly if you are someone who leads a group or an organization and has experienced it. To you, the reason may seem a mystery or a surprise. Surprises for you are never good.

“I don’t deserve to be undermined!”

“Why did they do an end run?”

“I was trying to handle this through channels!”


Leaders with the dominant trait of trust may uncharacteristically lash out and make a bad situation worse. This behavior isn’t acceptable when you are in leadership. Responding with a tempered attitude, controlled demeanor and measured choice of words are important to avoid the perception that you will be retaliating. Retaliation will be self-defeating and create a toxic environment and staff turnover you don’t want.

The Impact of Betrayal on Leaders

Leaders often experience betrayal when they don’t involve employees in important decisions, or act disrespectfully. This may result in gossiping at the (virtual) water cooler or breakroom and lying to senior leadership. The impact on a leadership team can be profound. Let’s explore the implications of betrayal on leaders and its effect on teams. Unfortunately, too many leaders acknowledge or discuss the betrayals that occur in their work.

A member of staff who betrayed trust is going to find it hard to win back trust. Like a fractured bone, there’s a high risk of splintering which damages a manager’s or leader’s effectiveness. Even if the betrayal was unintentional, it may deliver an expensive lesson for you and for your group or organization.

After all, trust-based relationships are critical to establishing a strong organization. When leaders and followers trust each other, they can achieve more together. They enable leaders and followers to meet their personal and organizational goals. However, betraying trust is too common a problem within organizations. But what can someone on staff do to head off a betrayal?

Avoid Betraying Someone

Before obliterating your relationship with your manager, Director, VP, etc., try these tactics.

There is no perfect way or time to deal with the issues you have except to walk into your meeting open to listening, compromise and the possibility you might be wrong.

Regardless of the problem, address the issue privately. This maintains mutual respect and indicates a desire to resolve a problem. It also minimizes the likelihood of gossip that sabotages the work environment. If there are two of you who believe there is a problem, both of you should attend the meeting.

Be self-aware. Although they may have a title and you don’t, that doesn’t give you permission to be unaware of the impact of what you say and do upon your manager or leaders. You may feel distrustful, but that doesn’t give you permission to make a personal attack. As soon as you do that, you’ve lost.

Be a leader by guiding s/he/they to a different conclusion than the one they made before. Be prepared and organized to present to them so they understand the problem that exists, their blind spot and the impact of their decision.

If attacked, stay calm. Just because they have a higher title on the org chart doesn’t mean they will respond well to your ideas. They may be surprised and thus defensive. Don’t let them upset you. Stay calm.

Document the conversation. Immediately after the meeting, particularly if it didn’t go well, document the conversation you had and send it to yourself and decide whether to meet with an HR rep for advice. Make no threats. Do not attack or criticize anyone. Seek advice about what to do next.

Staff (and leaders) must be aware of the impact of betrayal and its potential consequences on the team (or organization). Conversely, if management or leadership don’t acknowledge the need for change and the consequences of not addressing it early enough, there may be no hope for you in this organization.

Building or rebuilding trust is a continuous process. Staff and management must work to gain or regain trust and establish for one another. Being transparent about the situation and expressing remorse and apologizing for any wrongdoing is an important start that may start to rebuild trust and renew relationships. Pretending nothing has happened won’t work. It reflects toxic leadership to people.

Ⓒ The Big Game Hunter, Inc., Asheville, NC 2022 

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People hire Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter to provide No BS Career Advice globally because he makes many things in peoples’ careersJeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter easier. Those things can involve job search, hiring more effectively, managing and leading better, career transition, as well as advice about resolving workplace issues. 

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