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Traitor on Your Team? It Might Be Your Fault

Traitor on Your Team? It Might Be Your Fault

Benedict Arnold. Few names in American history bring to mind the act of selling out or betraying their country or cause more than Benedict Arnold. Yet in the list of turn coats, deserters and thieves there have been many traitors that have caused more harm to The United States than Benedict Arnold.

As a business coach, I help entrepreneurs and leaders think about the types of people to bring on to their team and the roles that they play within the team. I also help these leaders think about the best role and the best way to keep the team members motivated and engaged.  In my experience, team members that are not actively engaged or feel valued become dissatisfied, leaving them open to becoming at best discontented and at worse a traitor.

While your organization may not be trying to win a war, create a market changing product or conducting ground breaking research, as a leader you want your team to work together with purpose and trust. I make no excuses for someone who betrays the trust of a team or organization. However, as a coach I do recognize that becoming disillusioned is often a process and the reason can be the results of missteps by a leader or organization.

Some people may have other reasons why someone may choose to betray the values or secrets of a team but these are my top three reasons and reasons that I think can be to a large extent avoided.

1) Effort vs. Reward This may be the most important reason someone would become sour towards their team or leader. The individual feels that their efforts are not being equally rewarded or recognized by the leadership of the organization. Everyone one of us has this scale that we put effort on one side and reward on the other. For some things, individuals will accept that the scale will be out of balance but the expectation is that for other there is a balancing out effect. Over a period of time (the period depends on the individual and their internal needs), when the scale is out of balance individuals will seek ways to balance the scales themselves.

2) Personal Expense vs. Compensation It is very important that leaders are clear with team members what expenses are expected to be personal and what expenses are covered by the organization. A trap that struggling businesses can fall into is the temptation to put off paying back any out of pocket expenses that an individual makes on behalf of the business. Even when the out of pocket expense is small not paying the employee back right away can cause someone to start feeling that they are not appreciated or respected.

3) Recognition is awarded to the wrong person or in the wrong proportion How many times have you seen in plays, movies, etc. where the person who killed the dragon or saved the village from evil was not given credit but someone who ran away or who helped some was given the praise and reward? While it can be a fun plot twist or make for an interesting story line in a movie, in real life it can lead to bitterness from the person who was slighted and a sense of “why bother.”  We should understand that not all personality types crave the spotlight or public attention when they go above and beyond or do something noteworthy but it is important that those individuals are given the proper recognition by his or her superiors.

Coach’s Wrap Up

As a leader, it is important that you understand what motivates your team members as well as building bonds with them that go beyond a paycheck. As I stated earlier, the internal scale that we all have that weighs the efforts/rewards plays a large part in how loyal we are to the organization and groups we associate with.  As a leader, it is important to have open communication with your team members so that you can get a sense when a person’s scales might be out of balance and then take action to correct the situation.  This does not guarantee that someone may not let the group down but it can help to keep those situations from happening because you ignored them.


Have you ever witnessed someone being disloyal? What do you think the reason was for their actions? Could it have been prevented?


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