Is it just me, or has loyalty become rather scarce these days? Anyone who’s been in leadership for any length of time has likely pulled more than a few knives out of their back. Bottom line – there seems to be way too much focus on “me” and not enough focus on “we” these days. There have always been those who have fostered trust and earned loyalty, as well as those who have abused both for personal gain. However in this “what have you done lately for me” society where relationships have degenerated into little more than stepping stones, loyalty seems to be elusive as best. One of a leader’s most important functions is to create an environment where trust and loyalty are the rule and not the exception.
Leadership and loyalty go hand-in-hand. In fact, so much so that leaders who fail to understand this simply won’t endure the test of time. While successful leaders share many common traits, all great leaders have one thing in common – they are not only adept at earning the loyalty of those they lead, but they also recognize that loyalty is definitely a two-way street. When it comes to loyalty, the simple rule is that you will not receive what you will not give.
It’s important for leaders to do a gut check and take note of the difference between fear based loyalty and trust based loyalty. As a leader, do you command the loyalty of those around you because of your title, or have you earned it by gaining their trust and respect? Loyalty commanded is fleeting – loyalty earned is enduring. Note…being feared as a leader is not a badge of honor to be sought after. It’s one thing for team members to have a healthy respect for you, but quite another to be in fear of you. Remember that respect is earned, and fear is imposed. Fear based motivations don’t instill loyalty, create trust, build morale, inspire creativity, attract talent, or drive innovation. The truth is fear stifles, and if left unchecked, eventually kills those you’re leading.
While loyalty can be based on limited options, I would maintain that it shouldn’t be. Loyalty should be linked to genuine relationships. The question for a leader is how can relationships be fostered in such a way that the alternatives become less attractive? How do you tell if your team members respect you or fear you? Below are a few thoughts and action steps to consider…
A Team of Yes-men: Feared leaders either surround themselves with like-minded people, or train people to share their views in a vacuum. Either way they lose…Great leaders value the opinions of their team whether or not said views happen to be in line with their own beliefs or opinions. The best leaders not only subject their ideas to scrutiny – they openly encourage it.
Lack of Interaction: Along the lines of point one above, if team members don’t proactively seek your advice and input then you have a problem. They either don’t value your contributions, or they know from experience that you’ll treat their inquiry in a belittling fashion. Over time, many fear-based leaders unknowingly train their team to think: “Why even try if there is no upside? The boss will never go for that.” It is key that team members have the freedom and openness to have interaction.
Feedback / Input: If you want to build trust and loyalty with those you lead, one of the best things you can do is ask for feedback and input from team members. There is an old saying, “People don’t need to have their way … but they do need to have their way considered.” Your team members are thinking what they are thinking. What good does it do you not to ask and find out for yourself what they are thinking? Ask! This fosters trust and a sense that you genuinely care about their opinions, input, insights and feedback.
Revolving Door: This is a tough one hear, however necessary to self-evaluate. If you either can’t attract or retain top-tier talent, you are not an effective leader who has earned the respect and loyalty of your team. In fact, upon closer examination, you’ll find that you probably don’t have a team. Sad but true…real talent won’t be attracted to, or remain engaged with leaders who operate on fear-based tactics. It’s a matter of when, not if, they depart.
Poor Performance: Leaders who have the respect of their team will outperform those that don’t. However leaders who attempt to use command, control and fear tactics without the necessary relational leadership principles will simply not do well. If your team and organization is not thriving and growing, there is a problem. Begin first evaluating your leadership qualities and work outward from there.
Affirmation: When a leader affirms his team members publicly, he increases the loyalty of his team privately. There is nothing more cancerous than “back room’ conversations between disgruntled team members. A culture of affirmation will help eliminate criticism and negativity. (Special Note: If a great culture is present, and team members continue criticizing in the back room, they should be invited to leave the team)
Love: An environment of trust, input, feedback, interaction, and affirmation will never exist without love. Why? Because love, at it’s core, is the absence of fear. An insecure leader is suspicious, closed to others and slow to offer praise. In contrast, one who loves leads with an open mind and thinks about others first. In short, you have to serve before you can lead.
It has been my experience that people want to be led and they are ready to be loyal. If you will focus on the action steps mentioned above you will be well on your way to a loyal and successful team.
Have a great week!