If you are in a leadership position you may encounter every now and then situation that forces you to think about loyalty. What does loyalty really mean? Should you be loyal to your company, to your employees, to yourself, to your values? How does it exhibit to the outside? What if the needs of the team are at odds with your needs? How does it impact our lives and does it have a place in today’s workplace?
What is the definition of loyalty?
Merriam Webster defines “loyal” as “having or showing complete and constant support for someone or something. It can be a government, private person, cause, ideal, custom, institution, or product.”
To translate this to corporate environment my definition of loyalty may sound like this: “A loyal employee is someone who cares and supports the company and the management in both good and bad times. It is someone who will voice her concerns directly with her manager and after decision is made will support it wholeheartedly whether she agrees with it or not. And it is someone who will discuss her concerns in private and will project a positive attitude in public.”
How does it impact your professional life?
I feel that this definition works nicely as long as you and the company have the same goals. This is important prerequisite. If the alignment is not there you cannot expect also trust and loyalty. In most cases with a good communication strategy and worthwhile mission of the company it should be manageable to accomplish. The only exception is when the goal of the team and mission of the company are at odds with core values of the employee. In that case the best both can do is to separate and go their own ways.
Do you want to be loyal?
I see myself as extremely loyal person. I always try to see the best in others and I strive to be reliable. This then automatically leads to loyalty being one of my traits. Is it always for the best? Probably no. Sometimes it stands in the way of making difficult decisions and sometimes it allows others to abuse this loyalty. So how do you ensure that you are loyal but at the same time don’t allow others to take advantage of you? In short how do you stay loyal to yourself and your values while being loyal to company and team needs?
Hurt me once shame on you
… hurt me twice shame on me. As a leader you need to trust others pretty much by definition. Your team doesn’t need to win your trust and your loyalty, they must have it from the beginning. The moment someone breaks the trust once you need to make it very clear to them that this is what is happening and you won’t tolerate repeated breaks abuse of your trust. For ideas how to address the situation check How To Deal With Broken Promises. And from the other side you need to be very self-conscious and watch yourself to be fair towards every member of the team. No favoritism, no bullying, no hiding away from issues. All these leave to broken trust and lost loyalty.
How to get it when leading people and how to lose it?
Even though your team needs to have your loyalty from the day one the same doesn’t go in the other direction. You as a leader need to show that you deserve loyalty of others. Loyalty is tightly linked to trust. And as I wrote in How can you motivate others? You can’t! trust is something that a leader needs to earn. One of the easiest ways how to earn the trust of your team is to trust them first. Aside of that it is the usually mix of characteristics you need to display as a good leader to gather your followers like consistency, transparency, ability to provide feedback and listen to it, authenticity, and genuine care about your team. This is not a rocket science but in reality it is something really difficult to exhibit these traits every single day. Breaking the trust happens really easily. Go back on your word two or three times, ignore what your team is saying, punish someone unjustly only because you are in a bad mood… and trust is gone. Loyalty will last longer since it has a strong emotional aspect and many people will find ways how to forgive your behavior in their minds. They will not trust you implicitly but they will stay loyal up to a point. However, at some stage it will break and suddenly you wake up one morning and discover that you don’t have a functional team anymore and in fact you may not have a team at all but just a bunch of people reporting to you.
How to get it back again?
Apologize. It is almost as simple as that. When you break the trust of your team, when they are not loyal to you anymore you can really do only one thing. Get the team together and apologize from the bottom of your heart. Admit your mistakes and weaknesses, let the team know how you would like to fix it and ask for their help. It is not easy, it is not something that many people can do as you are showing vulnerability but it is the only thing that can give you a fresh start. Once you apologize, and the team believes you mean it, you can start from the beginning and build a new foundation. You shouldn’t make any assumptions and you should act like you have a new team that needs to get to know you again.
What does loyalty mean for you? Are you loyal to your company and your bosses? Is your team loyal to you? How do you build loyalty?
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