A Short Observation on Loyalty

How a Leader Thinks About Loyalty Tells You All You Need to Know

Loyalty as a Value

There is no doubt that loyalty is an important element in any organization. It is an energy source and the lubrication that helps keep the wheels turning. An organization in which loyalty is missing, towards the institution or towards the leader, is an organization at risk.

Does that mean leaders should expect, even demand it? No. In fact, quite the opposite.

Looking at Loyalty in the Wrong Way

As long-time readers may recall, leadership is a life-long area of interest to me. How leaders develop and lead is such an important part of human existence.  Naturally, the subject of loyalty comes up often in reflections on leadership in specific cases. How leaders think about this asset is critical.

I learned a very long time ago that leaders who focus on loyalty as a demand, an expectation, are inevitably flawed leaders that will almost surely fail at some point. We have no greater example in the current environment than Donald Trump.

And Example #1 of Approaching it Wrong Is…

When Trump first hit the public view as a potential politician, he spoke often of how important loyalty is, but did so as an expectation, and it has always been a one-way street. How loyal someone is to him personally is the key asset he looks for in people. Loyalty back to them never comes up as a subject and based on the evidence, rarely comes to mind for Trump. Similarly, I have never heard him discuss loyalty to institutions (like the US Constitution, for example).

Just recently someone had an interview with Trump and when the discussion turned to people who have or might work for him, he said something along the following (paraphrase): Yeah, I think about their human qualities, of course. I ask myself, How loyal are they to me? That was the end of his reflection on someone’s humanity. What a sad, self-centered man this is, and long has been.

So, What is the Right Way to Think About Loyalty?

I mentioned earlier that the weak and failed leaders I have seen demanded loyalty and worried about it a lot. The good ones were exact opposite, and this difference was singularly important in how good a leader one might be.

The good leaders do not demand loyalty. They know it is important, but seldom think of it, and certainly not as a separate component of the leadership environment. They think of it, for lack of a better term, as a byproduct of the leadership environment. It is something they earn from others, not something they are entitled to have yielded up to them.

There were times in my military career that I had to give difficult orders, at times placing others in harms way. People accepted those orders and did their best to follow them because they trusted me to do what I thought was right and to take care of them as best I could in a mission. I never demanded loyalty from anyone; I simply worked to deserve it.

There are, of course, people in the world who have no loyalty to anyone or anything and leaders are right to cut such people from their organization as the best thing to do for all concerned.  You and I have an opportunity to make such a termination happen on the first Tuesday in November. Let’s do the right thing.

See you next week.

Bill Clontz

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