Loyalty. A word from the old feudal world being “of good quality, faithful and honorable” and “carrying out legal obligations” – with deeper origins in the Latin legalem, or law.
Loyalty was expected in the past. You would be loyal to the company that employed you, and the company would be loyal back and employ you for your whole career. A 1950’s dream that no longer exists in our current global competitive environment, as pensions get wiped out and companies downsize in the blink of an eye. It’s a word than can carry negative overtones today – being loyal sometimes being synonymous with being blindly loyal, something many people would be uncomfortable claiming as one of their key characteristics.
And yet it is a concept that is very powerful when creating and growing a company, and something I look for when hiring key employees – can they be loyal, is it in their nature?
When people are loyal to each other – up, down and across an organization – they can move quickly, make mistakes and recover. They can make difficult decisions, knowing that they won’t get stabbed in the back if they are wrong. They can take risk, knowing that their boss, or their peer, or their employee, will support them and help them recover if the risk was too great.
As a CEO, building a loyal culture can make a big difference in how much risk you can take with the business, how fast you can drive growth and change. In the extreme case the figure of the cult CEO, like Marc Benioff at Salesforce.com, can inspire loyalty in employees and help them feel empowered to take more risk, run faster, push the edge of what’s possible because they are loyal to a risk-taking leader. And obviously nothing creates loyalty like success.
I’m old fashioned. I think loyalty within a company matters. When people are loyal to the company, the goals and dreams of the company, and each other, they can make magic happen. Like trust, loyalty is efficient. It makes a working system where everyone can focus on the task at hand, not watching their back or their own personal interests. But to build a loyal culture you have to take care of each individual’s growth interests as well as the company’s.
As a leader you can build loyalty when you:
– create an experience that is fun, intense and a growth experience for every individual
– are fair – even-handed and open in how you deal with people, pay and promotion
– have your team’s back, especially in times of adversity
– stomp out politics – put the company first at all times
– be direct – if you don’t agree say so, if you think an idea is dumb say so and respectfully explain yourself, if you think an idea is great say so
– act quickly – if someone is not cutting it tell them so, tell them why, and move them on – and if you have to let them go for performance reasons, help them
through it so they land in a better job for them – that creates long
term loyalty in both the employees who are staying and those who are leaving
– don’t be afraid to exercise authority if you need to – people understand in the end that your job as a leader is to drive forward and make decisions, even if they are unpopular
– be decisive
– be courageous
– be accessible and human
and the most important
– be loyal to your team – loyalty begets loyalty