Are You Creating Enemies or Traitors?

You have a bad guy. The villain. The antagonist. This bad guy is either inside your company or outside. As a leader, you can influence where he is. Outside it better, but if you don’t point him out to your team, they’ll create the bad guy inside your company walls.


Businessman being stabbed in the back by traitor colleague or partnerThe bad guy is whatever you fight. In for-profit companies, this should be your toughest competitor. In a non-profit, the enemy should be the injustice you seek to eliminate: hunger, poverty or disease. In religion, your enemy is obvious: Satan. The problem is, when you don’t constantly point out these bad guys as public enemy #1, your team will create villains within the team: these are your traitors.


Your team needs a villain to attack. Therefore, without an enemy for your team to align against, they will look among themselves for that villain. Instead of innovating solutions to defeat the external competition, they’ll focus on internal competition for that next promotion. The result? You have traitors wasting time, money and energy inside the organization.

Creating Enemies for Your Team

Creating enemies for your team is easy. They already exist, you just need to point them out. Here are some tips for creating enemies instead of traitors:

1. Reveal Them: Reveal the unethical business practices of competitors. Display the destructive results of an injustice.
2. Name Them: Don’t be afraid to name your enemies. People want passionate leaders.
3. Sitrep: A Sitrep is short for Situation Report – a status update on a critical area or battle. Provide frequent and regular sitreps to your team. Who is winning the battle? Who is winning the war?
4. Call Out Traitors: Have a no tolerance rule for traitors. Reiterate that dirty politics or attacks on team members will not be tolerated.

As a leader, you are either pointing out the enemies or enabling traitorous behavior. Keep your team looking outside the company for their bad guys and you’ll have a more effective, engaging and happy team.

Questions: What other ways can we focus on bad guys and avoid traitors? Leave a comment here.


Picture of Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner is the founder and principal of Modern Servant Leader and Radiant Forest, LLC. He has studied and promoted servant leadership awareness and adoption for over 20 years. He is the author of 2 leadership books and has 2 decades of corporate management and leadership experience. His corporate experience spans CIO, VP, Director, and many management roles at Fortune 500, INC 500, and Nonprofits. Ben’s education includes a B.S. in Management Science & Information Systems from Penn State University and an MBA from Lehigh University. Ben's Full Profile Here: About Ben Lichtenwalner

2 thoughts on “Are You Creating Enemies or Traitors?”

  1. David McCuistion

    Leaders need to mentor those individuals to attempt to turn them around and make them organizational-friendly. They need to be brought into the fold if there is positive potential in having them onboard.

    I once had an individual that a partner said we need to get rid of this person. I said, “No we need to fix him.” I confronted him, talked to him, mentored his and turned him around. He eventually left my organization on his own. However, I felt I did the right thing and did some good that help him in the future.

    I believe there is good in every employee, one just has to find it and work the good so that the other can be overcome. Nice article Ben. Thank you.

    1. Thanks Dave. I agree – for the most part. As a leader, if you hire someone or you allowed someone else to hire a team member, you have a commitment to that individual. You should make an effort to align them to the organization.

      From my perspective, a bad corporate culture is attributable largely to leadership. Therefore, backstabbing and dirty politics are the responsibility of leadership to chase down and eliminate.

      That said, there are some individuals that will not turnaround. If you’ve made an effort and this person is not correcting the disruptive behavior, you must serve the rest of the stakeholders by helping that person find another opportunity.

      Always love your insights David. Thanks again for sharing!

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