Creating or Earning Loyalty

Issue 10 and Volume 12.

This is frustrating to both sides. Often, the frustration from a manager/leader that he/she does not seem to be getting loyalty from the staff leads to a very common mistake. When loyalty does not seem to be what it should, the leader often demands loyalty from the staff. When this happens, the leader has completely missed the point and has mistaken an expectation of blind followership or compliance with loyalty.

Individual loyalty to another person is an emotional connection that comes from the heart. It is impossible to demand loyalty. If you do, there may be some acting going on to try and appease your demands, but this only lasts as long as you are standing in the presence of the staff. As soon as you are out of sight, the team and organization go right back to what and how they were doing things.

Going Paperless

I once witnessed a leader in an organization demand that a certain section become “paperless.” This organization had purchased software to help lead the organization toward the objective. As often happens, the decision on the software and functionality was made way up the chain of command with no input from those doing the work. Many conversations took place, and the leader basically heard the concerns but did not understand the work. The leader’s evaluation depended on this transition to a paperless process, so there was no room for failure. The leader demanded that the new software be used without question, and anyone who didn’t comply would be dealt with accordingly. The staff saw the handwriting on the wall and went to work figuring out how get the work done while giving the leader what he wanted.

The organization had not paid for the new software to be fully functional as designed, so the various sources of information could not be seen in one place to complete the work of this team. The team came up with two options that might work. Option one was to pull the needed information up on the screen and write down the information needed on a piece of paper. This would be repeated with several sources to gather all the information needed to be entered into the new software. The team discussed the pros and cons. They realized the potential for error in hand writing the information and then manually entering it into the new system. The second option was to bring in a personal printer not connected to the network and print the information from the various sources needed and then enter it into the new system. This eliminated one step and reduced the chances of errors by 50 percent. Once the printed copies were entered into the new system, they could be smuggled out of the office in a personal bag and the printer could be hidden away in a locker. By not printing through a network printer, it would be difficult for anyone to know what they were doing. They went with option two. Once the needed information was manually entered into the new system, it functioned properly and there was no need to print the work orders. The leader’s success was only measured by looking at the network printer stats and the purchase orders for paper and printer ink.

The leader, who wasn’t around very much, was happy and could claim credit for “going paperless.” The new process was more cumbersome for the staff, but they would rather pay the cost out of their pocket for printing supplies than deal with the clueless leader. Of course, the organization’s top leaders praised the leader and the staff for their outstanding work on meeting another green initiative. The reality was that twice as much paper was being used to accomplish the work as before, there were more opportunities for errors, and the staff was frustrated and had to hide what they were doing just to be able to accomplish their work. Needless to say, the staff had little respect for their leader or the other leaders of their organization, but the bosses were happy and they were being left alone to do their work. It is important to note that this work involved processes for highly advanced medical procedures.

There are many management/leadership lessons in that example, but in the context of this article I will stick to the fact that the leader is mistaking compliance with loyalty. There is a big difference! When leaders don’t invest in the front end and build relationships with the employees, lack competence and understanding of the work being performed, or simply treat the staff as peasants unworthy of conversations, loyalty is usually lacking. Loyalty is always a two-way street and is never an entitlement based on a position.

Earning Loyalty

To get loyalty, there are a few things that are essential. You must value people and treat them right, showing respect and fairness. Without this, the temptation to demand loyalty creeps in. If you are having to talk about loyalty with an organization or team, then you don’t have it. Always remember that if you do demand loyalty without earning it, the organization or team may be forced into submission as a matter of survival. When this occurs, you will always get the minimum and never reach the maximum potential in any area. There will be little innovation, but instead just survivalist tactics, deception, and a lot of faking it.

Adding Value

You must provide an environment that produces opportunity for becoming better. The heart responds positively when an organization, team, or individual experiences a higher level of knowledge, gets better at a skill, and learns from the leader. The learning should be in the form of how to do something or how to handle something correctly and not as an example of how not to do something. This higher level of knowledge or perfected skill provides additional opportunities to improve the lives of those involved.

Caution When Providing Opportunities

As a leader, you should provide opportunities to those who have earned it based on competence, skill, and attitude. Providing opportunity because of some other factor can have a detrimental effect on those who were deserving of the opportunity. It is also detrimental to the individuals on the receiving end of the opportunities because everyone knows they have not earned them. This can create a false sense of success for the individuals and a lack of appreciation for earning loyalty. These undeserving recipients of opportunity are often frustrated as they become leaders and are expected to lead those who were deserving of the opportunity because they are resented and not trusted.

Consistency and Trust

Consistency and trust are also essential to earning loyalty. These are things that cannot be gained overnight or with a new title. Organizations often overlook the time and actions needed to develop this part of the puzzle. Instead, emphasis is often placed on numbers, measurable things in a spreadsheet. The organizational pressure to meet benchmarks listed in some strategic plan often immediately takes precedence over investing the time needed to build the foundation of trust for the team so that compliance won’t have to be the goal. This might require the leader to take a few hits from above on some short-term numbers. In the long run, however, the numbers will take care of themselves and may even shatter the short-sighted strategic plan. Sticking up for your people or your boss when it’s deserved is very substantive and, when done consistently, develops a very productive and innovative environment.

Remember, this is all a two-way street. If you can accomplish the things listed above, you can create a relaxed environment where organizations, teams, or individuals are doing what you want done even before you know it needs to be done. The healthy environment created results in loyalty without the need for demanding it.

The most critical thing to remember here is that leaders who don’t care, don’t provide opportunity, and are not consistent will never have the loyalty of the organization, teams, or individuals. These leaders, however, rarely understand that they belong in this category. The level of loyalty is always determined by the people, not the leader; therefore, if you are a leader suffering a loyalty crisis, it may be time to look in the mirror. There is a powerful quote from the Dalai Lama, “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” Pretty good advice!