Are You Serious About Loyalty?

Most of us over a course of a career have met that charismatic leader, the one you’d follow to the ‘ends of the earth’. Many studies, including the Marcus Buckingham book First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently(Simon & Schuster, 1999), show that employees leave (or stay) due to their immediate managers, not the company itself.

Is it wise to stay loyal to a leader because you like them? Because you’ve worked for them for a long time, have a history with them, and as such feel you know (or owe) them?

An intriguing premise in the Declarations column by Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required to access) for Saturday, March 17, 2007 poses the thought that there is trouble with this kind of loyalty. The article looks at loyalty in politics. I am transferring this view to the business world.


(adapted from WSJ article…)
“Who do you think should lead the new Innovation department?” asked Susan.
“Bob Johnson, he’s the best,” John declared.
“Why Bob?” said Susan.
“I’ve worked for him for years. Great guy. He brought me here from ABC Company. I’m a loyal follower.”
“That is why you’re advocating for Bob…because you’re loyal?”
“Yep,” said John.

Is loyalty is enough? John is virtuous in his loyalty. That’s great. John’s loyalty to Bob shouldn’t be the reason John advocates for Bob as the leader of the new Innovation department. Shouldn’t the decision be based more on what Bob knows about innovation? Or his management skills, ability to lead a new team, etc.? In a perfect world, we’d have both. I work for a great company whose motto is ‘relationships drive results’. Not all relationships drive results. If we blindly follow someone who doesn’t have the skill/will/resource to accomplish the mission of his role and the company’s goals, we’re in for a long fall off a short cliff.


“A leader is most effective when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, his troops will feel they did it themselves.” – Lao Tzu

As managers of people, should we get our staff to like us, or like our ideas? True, the two do not have to be mutually exclusive. Yet so many times they are. I see it happen. Dictator-style managers that whip the horses as a management practice but have great strategic ideas don’t breed loyalty and are easy to leave. Yet if we try too hard to be friends with every employee, we may lose sight of the reason we’re leading – to serve our employees by assisting them in accomplishing specific organizational goals. It is the service of bringing these goals to life for our teams, and then getting out of the way so they can execute on the plans, that is our mission. Keep the fire burning for the idea, the goal. Not for yourself.


If you’re serious about loyalty, check what fuels your passion each day. Is it to please/appease a boss, or the will and belief in accomplishing a company mission/vision/purpose? Blessed are you when it is both.

I’ll close by paraphrasing the last words of the WSJ article:

It is better to see employees driven by philosophy than by personalities. Better to be faithful to the cause than to individuals with whom you merely have a history. Better to have fidelity to principles, and not to leaders, no matter how interesting or compelling they are.


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