Cherish Loyalty – To a Point
Loyalty is powerful driver of progress and success. It creates long lasting, and productive relationships. These relationships are satisfying and provide us with a sense of tribe and belonging. Loyalty allows us to count on each other, trust each other, and sometimes take advantage of each other. I’m all for loyalty, both providing it and receiving it. Yet, when practiced blindly, loyalty can be detrimental to you and your relationships.
Personally, I consider myself a very loyal person – with friends, work associates, and my community. A friend’s wife once told me that if they got stuck in a ditch, I would be the first person they would think of calling. This validated the importance I place on loyalty. However, because loyalty is such a powerful force within me, there have been a few instances where I have been taken advantage of, and quite honestly, it broke my heart.
Going Too Far
When loyalty is a virtue, it provides trust and dependability. A blind commitment that goes unquestioned. It allows for stability in relationships that are lasting and reliable. When we count on each other, we can move quicker to action and progress. It creates cohesion in a team and can link people to ethical values that are good and kind. It provides support when difficulties arise. Loyalty truly produces great empathy and commitments that can out last any strategic plan.
When loyalty goes wrong, we can follow others without independent, critical thinking. It can make us sacrifice too much for the wrong cause. Loyalty can sustain and encourage bad behavior or allow bad actors to go too far. Sometimes, we compromise our integrity for the sake of unquestioned support to others. Unquestioned loyalty can create situations of manipulation and allow our relationships to go astray. We are put in situations that are not in our best interest. It is the tool of narcissists. But how do we know?
Stay Tuned In
As with all our values, we must be aware and tuned in to how our loyalty, and that of others, is not misused. We all know that feeling we get when something in our intuition is telling us to rethink, reconsider, or readjust. I fully believe that loyalty also requires us to cut others slack, stick with them even in bad times, and be there for them. That’s the beauty of loyalty. The secret to not letting your loyalty be taken advantage of is to consider the intentions of others and what is in the best interest of those beyond the loyalty relationship.
The two situations I repeatedly hear are trying to save bad actors that we work with and business deals that are misguided. Most organizations seek to create loyalty within their teams, which provides great value to everyone. It creates safety and security in our workplaces and allows for very productive results. In fact, many companies reward loyalty of tenure and have a party when someone reaches 25 years with an organization. Don’t get me wrong, I think people should be celebrated – it’s a good thing. Unless it isn’t. Sometimes we overlook bad performance and create cultures that plainly protect people who are disruptive, which in turn sends the message that loyalty is more important than the needs of the team.
In our contemporary work with organizational cultures, we are seeing less loyalty from employees to employers. This is because people will no longer stay at a company where they see their culture hurt by loyalty to bad behaviors that consistently go unaddressed. I once worked with an organizational leader during a downturn in their business and needed to ‘right size’ the organization. This meant he had to let some people go. When it was all over, he said to me, “Thank God for this downturn”. During the ‘right size’ process he realized that he had some people who were just disrupting their efforts and needed to be terminated. His loyalty to these bad actors enabled them to take advantage of the culture which created the situation he was in. Without the downturn, he might not have made the adjustments and reevaluations he needed to make.
Get That in Writing
Another common situation is an organization’s “promise” to share in the rewards of an eventual rebound when employees are putting in extra effort during difficult times. In an effort to garner the loyalty of employees, promises are made to “provide shares”, “promote” or even make them an owner. I was once promised a share in the profit of the sale of a business if I provided my services at a discount. That promise never materialized. My loyalty was so profound to this client I never realized I was being played. I sometimes wonder if it was just circumstance that made things go badly, or did they tap into my value of loyalty to take advantage of me. Looking back, I believe they were also loyal to me until their own self-interests became their priority. Or was I just dumb and suspended any critical thinking in blindly following them. More frustratingly, others in my circle saw this coming before I did. The lesson for anyone making a deal like this is “get it in writing”. If you hear excuses as to why it cannot be in writing, it’s likely they do not intend to honor their commitment to you. Human nature is what it is.
My message here is that loyalty without purpose and true mutual commitment can mislead the best of us. Loyalty is a two-way street. There are times when one of you will be faltering and the other will fill the void. We should stick with people. We should give the benefit of the doubt. But we should not enable each other to slip into bad situations. When I think of my very best friends who may do something I feel is misguided, my loyalty and respect for them allows me to be frank with them about what I feel. If they are unable to provide the loyalty back, fine, I may get myself out of the situation and be there when they’re ready to give back. I won’t go away, but I won’t be part of the problem.
Cherish the loyalty you have with others and treat it as you would any other asset you have. Be loyal to a point, until it is hurting you or others.