So, Here’s The Thing About Loyalty…

Some leaders and followers have it backwards.


Leadership and Loyalty

The study of leadership has been a life-long passion of mine. I have watched it in terrible crucibles and in beautiful opportunities. I have strived to practice what I have learned. There are, of course, many types of leaders. But about loyalty, there seems to be only two mindsets from which leaders may choose.

Loyalty is an important quality within an organization and among its members. In military organizations, it is often a matter of life and death. But even in less dangerous environments, loyalty is an important reservoir.

What is interesting is that some leaders get it backwards. They start out asking for, more often demanding, loyalty. It is an admission price to be part of the team. They want up front, clearly articulated pledges of fealty. Often. If that sounds familiar, you might be thinking of Donald Trump. Mr. Trump is always asking others about the perceived loyalty of associates.

Vice President Pence is among those being examined in this manner of late. Recall that Trump fired Comey when the Director said he could not make a pledge of personal loyalty. His loyalty had to be to the constitution. Trump denies he ever asked the question. Given the known history of both men, who do you believe?

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Alas, President Trump is not alone in this fixation on loyalty. We have all seen it in government, business, nonprofits, the arts – everywhere. My experience is two-fold.

One, this most often comes from insecure leaders. They lack confidence, seeking to make up for it with the commitments of others. Two, it usually creates a bad atmosphere. Mistrust crops up easily. Personal ties and personality quirks rise to unhelpful stature. These are not healthy institutions that mentor or function well.

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The other type of leader recognizes the power of loyalty but would never think of demanding it. They choose to earn it. One earns it by showing loyalty down the line as well as up to their bosses. They demonstrate regularly how to live their values in the workplace. They stand up for their people when they are in trouble.

They don’t worry about loyalty, because they have shown it themselves and they have earned it from others. It will be there when needed. It will not be automatic, nor driven by fear. It will be given willingly by people who believe in their leaders and their teams.

I have been fortunate in my careers and avocations to have had more of this second type of leader than the first. Most of them I would classify as Leader Servants. I will be forever grateful to them for showing me the way.

My adult life has largely been invested in leadership positions. Someone once asked me what I thought my most valuable contribution could be.Without hesitation, I replied that it was to grow my replacements 2-3 generations down the line.

That whole business about earning loyalty, not demanding it, was one of the important lessons I hope I passed on to others.

Wish I saw more of that now at the national level.

      Bill Clontz

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2 replies to So, Here’s The Thing About Loyalty…

  1. Thank you for your personal and national experience and insight. You precisely and accurately explain the mindset of not only prominent leaders but of people in general in our everyday lives. We do have to look at ourselves first before we expect from all others, which lately I’ve learned it best not to expect or become disappointed. It will be interesting how Trump will go down in history. To say the least, tear gassing people is alarming and uncalled for. Thank you, Bill for sharing your leadership skills. They serve us very well.

    • Thank you, Vanessa. I expect history will not be kind to Mr. Trump, but also those in his party who chose blind loyalty over moral leadership.

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