Fear of Betrayal

Arch of Alliance

Beyond Transformational Leaderhip


Synergistic Leadership is not focused strictly on the Leader -- it’s about getting teams to align and create together, getting differences to become additive, to join collaboratively in an organizational “symphony” integrating harmony, melody, rhythm, beat, -- each individual’s special personal nature -- their “instruments” that can make real music, not just a lot of noise. 

It’s about Inspiration, Vision of a Noble Cause, Innovation, and building a System of Trust that unleashes and focuses human energy.

The Revelation about Synergy is that it is, in the final analysis, about “Aligned Energy.”

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Fear of Betrayal

This noble quest for synergy is, however, thwarted all-too-often by betrayal, or even just the fear of betrayal, which is one of our deepest fears, most tormented anxieties, and horribly painful lessons.

To attain synergy, it’s essential to understand its polar opposite – the Fear of Betrayal. For it is the juxtaposing of these two themes that has created on the one hand: wars, divorce, political upheaval, and tyranny, and on the other hand: civilization, technological innovation, institutions of commerce, healing, and learning, and even transcendental glory.

The interplay between the “Quest for Synergy” and the “Fear of Betrayal” is so profoundly engrained in our society’s institutions as to be nearly invisible. To discover its roots, however, one needs only to examine the archetypal sources that are so imbedded and intertwined in our society. Examining the historical records will cast great light on early civilization’s yearning to attain the Quest and battle the Fear.

The Old Testament’s Book of Genesis, chronicling the origins of Judaism, starts with God creating a synergistic universe, then creating a synergistic union with Adam, Eve, and God in the Garden of Eden. Then: the betrayal. Eve and Adam are cast out of the garden for betraying God’s commandments. The source of the betrayal is no less than Satan. Later, Cain betrays Able by murdering him. Abraham, in synergistic brotherhood, rescues Lot from those betraying spirits in Sodom and Gomorrah.

The most horrible betrayal occurred in heaven itself when Lucifer, the Son of the Dawn, betrayed God, who was forsaken not only by Lucifer, but also by a third of all the angels in heaven. (Esek 28) Even God did not have the power to prevent betrayal. In the New Testament, Christ is betrayed by Judas, resulting in a crucifixion. Even the doubts of Thomas were considered a minor form of betrayal.

In ancient Greece, wise Socrates was betrayed by his own Athenian citizens. He drank hemlock in prison before he could be executed. Homer wrote of the abduction of Helen as the Trojans betrayed their alliance with the Greeks. In the classic Roman betrayal, Caesar was assassinated by Brutus. Shakespeare capitalized on betrayal in some of the most memorable literature in the English Language, embodied plays such as Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, and Julius Caesar.

Rape, incest, molestation by clergy, murder, and theft (particularly in one’s home) are all examples of what we consider the ultimate forms of betrayal. These sins are so emotionally laden because they violate the very trust and belief we have in our most divine yearning – the Quest for Synergy.

Sadly, in the attempt to protect ourselves from our Fear of Betrayal, we have created a legion of laws, new fears, and protectionist policies that draws our society farther from the synergy. No lawyer can create a legal document protecting us from betrayal, and neither can a family or friendship protect us. Only a powerful commitment to honor, a mutual standard of win-win, and an unwavering standard of integrity can protect oneself against betray and its ancillary: the fear of betrayal. To often the fear of betrayal is in and of itself enough to trigger protectionist behavior that, in turn triggers the betrayal fears in others, thus generating a vicious circle of more fear, more distrust, and more betrayal. 

Knights of the Round Table, Betrayal, and the Mordred Factor

Perhaps no story imbedded in our collective psyche could be as compelling as the medieval legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. As the legend has evolved, it may be the ultimate story of the Quest for Synergy and the Tragedy of Betrayal. King Arthur dreamed of Round Table of honorable and chivalrous knights who, together united in a common vision and ideal, would protect their kingdom, prosper, and flourish. Joy would prevail throughout the land.

However, in a series of traumatic betrayals, Lancelot has an affair with Guinevere, destroying the beauty and bliss of most passionate of trios. Then, the penultimate betrayal is revealed with the unkindly arrival of Mordred, who is Arthur’s illegitimate son (and thus heir to the throne) into the court of Camelot. Born of a deceptive seduction by the treacherous witch Morguese, 

Mordred is the classic conniver, a no-holds-barred schemer whose only intent is to relentlessly destroy the trusting relationships among the Knights of the Round Table. Playing one off against the other, setting each out to destroy the values and ideals that created Camelot’s synergy, Mordred systematically undermines everything that Arthur dreamed or created. Portraying himself as a realist who can act appropriately in the arena of real politic, Mordred, in the most sinister of plots, excommunicates nearly all of the knights, who, now marginalized, ignominiously join forces to become Arthur’s enemies and overthrow Camelot, destroying the ever-present and forever lingering dream of synergy.

Despite Arthur’s passionate but unrequited hope that Mordred might have a spark of goodness in him, Mordred persists on his destructive path. Lancelot’s offer to thrust an iron spike through Mordred’s heart is rejected by Arthur, for whom hope for man’s salvation reigns eternal. Arthur remains the dreamer, the idealist, and the failure, for there is neither hope nor salvation for Mordred – only death or isolated incarceration (like Napoleon’s exile to St. Helen’s island) is the only workable fate.

Like the allegory of the frog carrying the scorpion across the river, then being stung to death by the unappreciative passenger who says to the dying frog “it’s in my nature,” there is no alternative to dealing with a Mordred than to cut him out like a cancerous tumor.

Mordred is the embodiment of the sinister. His evil essences is destructive, not through direct aggression and attack, but by undermining, by indirection, by manipulative abuse to cause others to do his wicked bidding, by guise and guile.

It is Mordred’s characterization as a person whose values are the archetypical antithesis to the Arthurian Quest for Synergy that we term the Mordred Factor. Not only do these people have neither the desire nor ability to collaborate, synergize, and synchronize, but go to the opposite extreme, and purposefully (either intentionally or unintentionally) destroy synergy, teamwork, co-creativity, and spiritual community. When done unintentionally, it usually takes a variety of forms, such as selfishness or insecurity, and manifests as: blame, criticism, attack, negativity, complain, or fault finding. When done intentionally, the result is usually far more insidious, destructive, and often horrifying. Today’s leaders are faced with removing Mordreds.

The Machiavelli Maneuver

To reveal and counter the intentional Mordred, which seemed quite prolific during the middle ages, a particularly unique characterization emerged during the Renaissance.

As a prelude and warning to the emerging Renaissance, Niccolo Machiavelli wrote his classic tales: The Prince and Discourses, as a handbook for power and control. Machiavelli, a student of real politic, details the use of initiating manipulative techniques to offset, counter-balance, overthrow, or combat others engaged in Mordred like activities. The age of intrigue was formalized, making betrayal, conniving, conspiracy, and scheming its own art form.

Machiavelli’s Prince is not strictly evil, he is a fox. And a fox he must be in a world of Mordreds, where there may be limited options to slay the dragon Mordred. Cunning was a requisite skill in a kingdom well populated with Mordreds.

Shakespeare took Machiavelli to the theatre. Shakespearian tragedy is the personification of betrayal. In Macbeth and Hamlet the audience is bedazzled by a string of multiple betrayals that enfolds us in the tragedy of a denied dream of collaboration, honor and joy. Julius Caesar pits the betrayals by the conniving Cassius and the murderous Brutus against the vision of patriotism and honor of Mark Antony. Cassius observes to Brutus of the nature of this evil:

Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves…..

How many ages hence
shall this … be acted o’er,
in states unborn and accents yet unknown!..

Sadly, in each tragedy Shakespeare bequeaths us with an epic struggle embracing no classic heroes, no optimism for defeating Mordred nor disarming Machiavelli, leaving posterity with a helpless archetypal organizational role model. The modern Hamlet, left bedeviled by treachery, cunning, and manipulation, has had few tools or strategies to create a sustainable Camelot.

Countering Mordred & Machiavelli

In our world of emerging value networks, alliances, and cross functional teams, it is essential for every leader to be cautious and observant regarding the potential Mordred on the team. As one respected leader told me recently:

  • “I’m leaving my organization to join another. My boss hired a person for our team who has been so disruptive that now everyone is being played off against the other. I spend all my time now worrying about who is going to put a knife in my back. I used to be a high flyer. Unless I leave I’ll have no future.”

Another executive lamented about her subordinates:

  • “I hired the most qualified people I could afford. But they are always breaking down, working for their own self interest. There is no teamwork, no synergy, and no synchronicity. We don’t coordinate well. No amount of team building seems to work.”

Unknowingly, she made the mistake of hiring her team based on competence, not character, resulting in a majority of people being or becoming “Marginal Mordreds.”

How an organization creates a culture of collaborative innovation is critical in either stimulating or repressing the Marginal Mordred and the Machiavelli Maneuver. As I was editing this piece, the phone rang. It was a senior manager from a large corporation who said with a sigh:

  • “There is no real innovation here and little collaboration. We all have a fear of failure because people are fired if they fail. If we do make a mistake, we are criticized in front of others. So no one takes any risks. We talk of innovation, but we don’t walk it. No one collaborates unless someone else is willing to take the risk and responsibility if something doesn’t work out. When we try to work in alliance with other companies, there’s an attitude that our products are always better, and theirs are junk. We see only a very limited set of options. If someone does have something good, our approach is arrogant: ‘We’ll just buy them.’ When we do, we kill all their innovation.”

This was said by a man of courage and vision who had been struggling for years to rally his small team against the overwhelming power of an antithetical culture. Yet we cannot expect those of vision and courage to act forever like fools. Unless new leadership is brought in, or alternatively, those of courage join forces as a “band of brothers,” each of the courageous visionaries will be picked off, one-by-one, or be relegated to live a sorry life of disillusionment and despair. 


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