Betrayal: A third universal challenge that leaders face is betrayal. If you remember, I have been cataloging some lessons of my leadership journey over the past couple decades according to Allender’s 5 universal leadership challenges in Leading with a Limp. The first two, crisis and complexity were rough, but betrayal has been even harder.
I am finally making some progress, thanks to my wife. Wives and best friends seem to have a way of cutting through all the crap and seeing straight into our souls. My wife is my best friend, so I get a double dose! I mentioned to her that the first two challenges of crisis and complexity seemed to be behind me, but that I might still be working through the rawness of betrayal; and I was struggling to write because I didn’t have any “neat” lesson outlines to share. She replied, “Why don’t you just be authentic and say you are still in the middle of this challenge?” My first thought was, “Why would I do a stupid thing like that?” But, by the time the synapses in my brain formed those words and sent them to my mouth, what came out was, “OK, honey; that is a great idea!” My wife has discerning wisdom, and after 28 years, I have learned that she has many great ideas. So here I am.
Betrayal is a wound that “hardens the heart against grief and deadens its hunger for intimacy.”[i] The risk for wounded leaders is to become self-absorbed and narcissistic. Since none of these issues actually applied to me (note sarcasm), I skipped over this chapter…until I started to become “angry and grumpy”. As I asked the Lord about this, He had me camp out in the betrayal chapter on this stage of the journey. When Allender described that betrayal comes in two different flavors – abandonment and abuse, I had new categories for thinking about this issue.
Abandonment. At some point, we will face betrayal. Jesus did. David wrote of the agony of betrayal in Psalms 55:12-14,
If an enemy were insulting me,
I could endure it;
if a foe were rising against me,
I could hide.
But it is you, a man like myself,
my companion, my close friend,
with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship…
Can you feel the pain of that? I experienced abandonment like this:
- When going through a hard time in our family with one of our kids (which one of us hasn’t?), “close friends” never asked how we were doing with all of that.
- Others refused or neglected to pray with us or for us.
- Others did not get under the rock with us to create positive change and solve problems in the organization. We were left alone to bear the load.
With abandonment comes loss of relationship and joy, sadness of feeling the loss of a friend with whom you once walked in sweet fellowship. Betrayal.
Abuse does not have to be physical. Many times it is emotional or verbal abuse. I experienced it like this:
- We created a team pact to guard one another’s’ backs from criticism, only later to learn that a couple members continually allowed triangulation. They repeatedly broke the pact by allowing others to stab us in the back with gossip and criticism, even after we confronted them.
- Abuse came in the form of passive-aggressive guerilla tactics of people who cordially smile to our face in one moment and were active participants in a mutinous gossip session behind closed doors in the next. By the way, we were not invited.
- Abuse came in the form of others deliberately misrepresenting us and what we said in order to damage and cause division.
Maybe these betrayals of abandonment and abuse don’t seem that serious, but over time, a leader who does not face or acknowledge these wounds can build up self protective walls. More than just becoming grumpy and angry, a leader, according to Allender, may become “cruel, defensive, belittling, arrogant, emotionally insulated, and even a sexual predator—reflecting some of the characteristics we associate with the term narcissism.”[ii]
How can we recognize early warning signs of becoming self-absorbed and narcissistic?
I’ll continue my thoughts on that question in the next blog.
[i] Allender, D. (2006). Leading with a limp: Turning your struggles into strengths. Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook Press, p. 98.
[ii] Ibid, p. 97.