Loyalty Cuts Two Ways

September 25, 2013

Loyalty Cuts Two Ways

Leaders value loyalty highly because they want people they can trust, and they don’t want to be stabbed in the back. But do leaders overvalue loyalty?

Loyalty Straight Up

Loyalty alone can leave a bitter taste. You can trust loyal workers to support you and stand by you during tough times, but you may not be able to trust them to do their jobs well. They may, in fact, be partly why you’re experiencing tough times. After all, just because they’re loyal doesn’t mean that they are super talented or extremely hard workers. Some may use your loyalty to them as an excuse not to work hard. Others may be so blindly loyal that they don’t think critically about their work and ways that they and the business could improve.

Loyalty alone isn’t enough. It can lead to sameness and lax behavior, and it can make firing extremely complicated and feel personal.

Loyalty as Part of the Mix

My friend Lois was looking for a new job, and I really wanted to hire her because she is very talented and has a great work ethic. We agreed we had become such good friends we would never work with one another; why spoil a good thing? I recommended her to a dear friend’s company where I was a minority owner. After about three months as the number two, she learned that the president (not my friend) was doing drugs, embezzling, and sleeping with his secretary. It was so appalling, she wanted to leave immediately, but did not have a place to go. We talked and agreed that working together could not be worse than what she was dealing with.

She came to work at our company and stayed 11 years. She didn’t use loyalty as an excuse not to work hard. She used it as a reason to excel. Our friendship didn’t suffer; it was enriched by the many opportunities to demonstrate loyalty and work hard together.

It’s not easy to find that mix of talent, work ethic, and loyalty. But it’s what leaders should be looking for. Loyalty alone is not enough.

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