The Most Destructive Leader Trait

By | February 8, 2020

[February 8, 2020]  Growing up in the rural Deep South, my grade-school teachers often told us stories about the history of the United States.  For little kids like my friend Wilson and me, we remember being mesmerized by the Benedict Arnold story and how he betrayed our fledgling nation.

We were raised as Christians, attending church everyday Sunday morning and Wednesday evening.  Everything was about teaching what was right and wrong and how to recognize evil.    We learned how to behave correctly, respect others, and treat them as we would like to be treated.  The Golden Rule was big.  Stories were a big part of how that message was delivered.

As part of our upbringing, it was also the duty of our parents to teach us about what not to do.  We learned about bad behavior and that some actions were worse than others.  Some behaviors are so terrible that our little minds had difficulty understanding them.

Later, while attending college, these ideas came flooding back when I read Dante’s Inferno.  Dante, who was trying to understand sin and evil better, believed that the worst possible human behavior was a betrayal.  My college English teacher was good at her job (can’t remember her name, unfortunately).  She said that what enables long-term, successful human cooperation is trust.

I’ve come to believe that trust is the fundamental, the most essential resource for people.  Over the past few years, there have been several economic publications that focus on the economic utility of trust.  In societies where the default economic presupposition between trading partners is trust, those societies tend to be rich.  This richness is an outcome regardless of whether the nation has natural resources, a large population, or its education level.

As long as trust is the basis of a human relationship, the world – past, present, and future – is simple and non-threatening.1  Trust is safety and security.  Betrayal, on the other hand, forces us to rethink our very being.  For Dante, betrayal (or as he called it, treachery) was the ninth and most profound, most sinful of sins.  No wonder that, as children, we could not “see” the depths of Benedict Arnold with his betrayal of our nation.  He, like many across time, has his reputation damned for all eternity.


  1. Trust is an unbelievably powerful economic force, maybe the most potent effect. Relationships are also predicated on trust.  Trust allows us to overlook the complexity of human behavior and feel comfortable, satiated, and contented.  As long as people do what they say they will do, we can take them at their word, and their word simplifies them and, importantly, our relationship.
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

16 thoughts on “The Most Destructive Leader Trait

  1. Delf "Jelly" Bryce

    If you want to see some real betrayal, we can now see that ex-FBI director James Comey both betrayed the nation by violating his oath of office but also by breaking the historical bond between the US President and those who work for him directly.

    1. Douglas R. Satterfield Post author

      Good to hear from you again, Jelly. Jim Comey did, indeed, betray the U.S. President but he also betrayed the nation. That is the reason so many folks today despise him.

    2. Nick Lighthouse

      Hi Mr. Bryce. Thank you for your comments from the “inside” one of those 3-lettered govt agencies. I would also ask that you write another oped soon. We all are big fans. Thanks for what you are doing to help our country.

      1. Ronny Fisher

        I agree. There is a mantra we should all be repeating:
        James Comey – Benedict Arnold
        James Comey – Benedict Arnold
        James Comey – Benedict Arnold
        James Comey – Benedict Arnold

  2. JT Patterson

    I agree with you Gen Satterfield that betrayal is the worst of the human actions for the reasons many have pointed out both here and throughout time. We can read more on it in the Bible, one of the ancient texts that gives us wonderful and truthful advice.

  3. Dr. William Blake, Sr.

    I liked your Daily Favorites today, Gen. Satterfield. I recommend everyone goes out and reads it. The topic is US Army Lt Col Vindman, the uniformed man who thought he could tell the US president what was right and what was wrong and then complain about it when Trump didn’t take his advice. Vindman is an example of the Deep State and its destructive powers. He should be also kicked out of the military.

    1. Janna Faulkner

      Yes and I will also note that Gen. Satterfield made reference to this many months ago and said that LTC Vindman should be removed immediately from his NSC job. That didn’t happen quick enough.

  4. Tom Bushmaster

    The basis for ALL human interaction is based on trust. Trust that I won’t hurt you or kill you or do something bad to you. AND, that I trust you will treat me honestly and forthrightly. These are the things that help us get where we want to go and be successful as family members, colleagues, friends, and peers.

    1. The Kid 1945

      Agreed and good comment Tom. Just read anything, any book or article that deals with people and you can find something about trust and often about how betrayal works against the truth. Adopt the truth and you shall live and be satiated. Live with the falsehoods and you shall die in pain and agony. This was recognized well before recorded human history began. Humans are fundamentally social creatures and that means we must trust to survive.

    2. Yusaf from Texas

      Trust is the basis of the formation of teams. People get the most done with teamwork.

      1. Gil Johnson

        — and why leadership exists to help make that happen in an effective and efficient way. I might also add that betrayal has been written about over and over throughout the centuries because it also ties closely to our emotional needs.

  5. Army Captain

    The breaking of trust is the most basic of human destructive behaviors. No surprise to anyone that this is at the top. Thus betrayal is and has been forever the worst human trait.


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