Actualized Leadership: Fear of Betrayal: The Dark Side of Power

Actualized Leadership: Fear of Betrayal: The Dark Side of Power

The person who angers you, controls you.

Life becomes easier when you learn to accept an apology you never got.
Robert Brault

In our last blog we examined the concept of the 3 Leadership Shadows with a special emphasis on Fear of Rejection, the dark side of the motive need for Affiliation.  We explored how warm and friendly attributes become negative and needy under stress.  In this blog we will turn our attention to what in many ways is the opposite Leadership Shadow: the Asserter style, the need for Power and the Fear of Betrayal.

Asserters, those driven primarily out of a need for Power, are the bold, courageous individuals who often lead our organizations.  Asserters are objective, confident and decisive leaders who are focused on delivering results, even if they have to bend the rules to do so.  They strive to control their environment, including those they work and live with.  At a primal or existential level, their motivation is driven by a desire for safety and security.  The late Harvard psychologist David McClelland discussed how important these individuals are for the advancement of our organizations, and society, for that matter.  He referred to them as the engineers who build our bridges and skyscrapers, and the generals who fight and win our wars.

Asserters are natural leaders who are often found in senior executive, finance, and military roles.  They are “large and in charge,” from coaching our favorite football teams to managing our money.  Asserters are rational and analytical, which leads them to careers from the courtroom, as attorneys and judges, to the boardroom, as chief executives and directors.  They are more concerned with performance and results than people and feelings, and their need to always be “right” often interferes with their happiness, connection to others (including family), and overall sense of peace.

Asserters tend to be more formal, and they appreciate their fair share (or perhaps a little more) of recognition and those who obediently follow their commands.  Often referring to themselves in the third person (e.g., “So, I bet you’re wondering what does William think about this?”) and telling others to ‘get on their calendar,’ they prefer a work environment where people, resources and opportunities orbit around them.  It’s best that you avoid challenging an Asserter in public, and heaven help you if you ever embarrass one.  Famous Asserters include General George Patton and Coach Vince Lombardi, as well as two current candidates for the most powerful position in the free world: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

While there are many action- and results-oriented positive benefits associated with Asserters, there is a dark side that emerges when their Leadership Shadow – Fear of Betrayal – is activated.  Under stress, when an Asserter senses a loss of control or a perceived betrayal or lack of appreciation from another, the Jekyll/Hyde potion is consumed and the ugly (and often belligerent) transformation begins.  Under stress, confidence becomes arrogance, control devolves to manipulation, and decisiveness becomes autocratic.  And just like the existential and ironic tragedy associated with Achievers and failure, and Affirmers and rejection, Asserters are more likely to experience the “betrayal” they so fear when their Shadow is activated.  The Fear of Betrayal Cycle starts with irrational thoughts, which then trigger unfounded fears and negative feelings, which in turn lead to counterproductive and self-defeating behaviors, as illustrated in the following table:

The Fear of Betrayal Leadership Shadow Cycle




I have to always be in charge.


Constantly manuevering for more control and power.

People cannot be trusted.


Rarely putting your guard down or expressing vulnerability.

I am “right.”


Being outspoken, autocratic and sarcastic.


Tragically this need for power and control creates dysfunction at both the office and at home, where dependency takes root.  At work, the tragic irony is that Asserters create and reward dependency by creating a culture of anxiety and fear, but then are the first ones to slam their fists down on the desk demanding others to “think creatively!” or “be innovative!”  And at home this dysfunction plays out as well.  Becoming easily bored with their co-dependent they lament not having a “thought partner” or someone who will “push back.”  Oftentimes the offended party, be it a direct report or a spouse, will eventually “jump ship” and strike out for greener pastures in the form of a new job, or new life, concluding the self-fulfilling paradox of the Asserter: betrayal.

The tragic irony identified above bears repeating: As an Asserter, the more afraid you are to risk separation by being vulnerable, letting go and allowing others to think and act for themselves, the more likely you will experience this separation in the form of “betrayal.”

The opening quotes effectively convey some critical ideas that are directly relevant to this style.  A Harvard medical study found that individuals with a high need for power (Asserters) carry more anger than the other styles.  Much of this anger stems from past transgressions, real or imagined, that need to be forgiven and forgotten.  Moreover, it is true that authentic power and control start with the level of self.  Reacting with anger gives that power and freedom away.  Asserters would do well to ponder the question: Who angers you the most?  As much as you may hate to admit it, that person controls you.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: