The Enemy Inside

     The Great Wall of China was built over a 2,200 year period. It was started in the 5th century BC and was not completed until early in the 17th century AD.  This amazing structure was originally designed to protect the various reigning dynasties of the era from raids by outside invaders and for hundreds of years stood as a symbol of strength and resolve. To this day, the Great Wall remains the world's longest man-made structure, stretching over a formidable 3,948 miles.

     Over the span of fifteen hundred years this Great Wall stood unconquered.  However all that changed one day when a solitary sentry who had been entrusted to guard his section of the wall, decided to accept a bribe from a harmless-looking shepherd.  All the sentry had to do to earn his ill-gotten reward was to abandon his post for a few moments. Within minutes of abdicating his responsibility and leaving his position unprotected, hordes of barbarians began pouring through the unprotected gate.

     For centuries, many had tried to overcome China by attacking its great wall. No one prevailed. But in the end, China’s enemies were able to gain entrance from a single man who lacked the character to live up to his responsibilities as a soldier and as a leader. His selfish actions ultimately brought ruin to not only himself, but also to countless innocent people who lost their lives at the hands of the foreign invaders. The invaders’ victory was made possible by someone who chose to compromise his character and walk away from his responsibilities--an “enemy inside” whose personal failure rendered the strength of the Great Wall of China obsolete.     

     What this sobering story reveals is that the greatest disappointments we experience in our lives often come at the hands of those we depend on the most. Those we trust to live up to their responsibilities to do what they said they would do. These are the formal and informal leaders in our midst we are counting on to stay true to their word.

     Like the Great Wall of China, trust is the proverbial brick that establishes the foundation by which we build everything from our businesses to our marriages. Integrity is the mortar that holds these bricks together. Trust and integrity together form the framework of effective leadership. They are also essential to any successful relationship. Without trust and integrity you will never have a healthy, stable and secure environment in your home, workplace, worship space or community. Without trust and honesty, eventually all you hold most precious will be lost--both individually and collectively. 

     An anonymous author once wrote, “A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to fear."

     I’d encourage you to pause and take a look around you. Might there be an enemy quietly at work in your surroundings? Is there someone who consistently undermines your influence, refuses to be held accountable for failures, or routinely points fingers of blame at others? Might there be someone on your team whose trust is questionable and loyalty is debatable? If the answer is yes, then my advice is simple: confront them now before any greater damage can be done. Hold them accountable. Be gracious. Be specific. But above all, be clear that abdicating responsibility will not be tolerated.

. . . The enemy inside must go.

The Enemy Inside -


John E. Michel is a widely recognized expert in culture, strategy & individual and organizational change. An accomplished unconventional leader and proven status quo buster, he has successfully led several multi-billion dollar transformation efforts and his award-winning work has been featured in a wide variety of articles and journals, including the Harvard Business Review. John enjoys helping people learn to walk differently in the world so they can become the best version of themselves possible. You are encouraged to learn more about John at his website,