“Unfortunately, for most people, pain is the greatest teacher. People don’t begin to make changes until they really get uncomfortable.” - Dr. Richard Moss At times, it seems to me as...
Loyalty is an important part of any organization’s culture, and like so many other aspects of a healthy work environment, its development rests largely on the shoulders of its leaders. A strong sense of loyalty can reduce turnover, encourage everyone to work hard and give their best, and promote a higher level of customer service. Intuitively, this makes sense. We all tend to work harder and do better for those we care about and feel loyal to.
But, loyalty certainly isn’t something that comes automatically with a title. It isn’t a gift you’re given; it’s more of an investment that must be earned, nurtured, and carefully managed. Like every other good thing, it takes effort and attention.
So how does one go about inspiring loyalty? A complete answer to that question would involve a deep dive into personal character, other aspects of organizational culture and the goals and personalities of your staff. However, I believe there are some foundational qualities that can be found in every leader who has successfully inspired a team of people willing to follow them to the ends of the earth.
Is there even such thing as a healthy team or partnership that is not based on trust? I don’t think so. When we trust and respect those we work for and with, we tend to be more engaged in the job at hand and work harder. In addition, trust almost always equates to better team and individual performance, lower levels of stress, less turnover, and a workplace that’s generally a pleasant place in which to spend our days. As leaders, it’s not only important to behave in such a way that builds others’ trust in us, we must trust those in our charge. It’s a two-way street. If we are constantly looking over our team members’ shoulders, second guessing their every decision, we create a sense of distrust and doubt that can lead to a culture of fear and suspicion – the very antithesis of loyalty. Great leaders know that giving trust without reservation goes a long way towards creating a team that will work hard to meet that expectation.
2. Support professional development.
In every area of life, investing in others in meaningful ways tends to build loyalty. Every one of us desires to feel that our work is meaningful and includes a positive progression. Environments in which there is little opportunity for growth and learning creates stagnation and an attitude of resentment towards leaders who might be perceived as “keeping us down”. On the flip side, when we provide opportunities for our staff to embrace and use their strengths, follow their passions, and stretch beyond their current capacity, we are not only sure to increase productivity, efficiency and ingenuity – we also inspire loyalty and gratitude for fostering that development.
3. Roll up your sleeves and get to work.
Leaders might be required to shoulder more responsibility than those they lead, but that doesn’t mean they are somehow “above” any job or task. Great leaders aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty – whether that means vacuuming the conference room before a meeting or covering the phones while their staff attend to another pressing need. Leaders who begin to view themselves as too good for menial tasks communicate to staff that their jobs are unimportant. To the contrary, when a leader demonstrates that they are a true team player, willing to do whatever it takes to make their organization successful, they inspire those around them to do the same.
4. Clarity of vision.
Who can truly be loyal to following someone who doesn’t even know what he or she wants or where they are headed? A leader’s clarity of vision is the compass by which the entire team navigates. If you aren’t clear about what you’re about and what you want to create, there’s simply nothing for your team to buy into. As leaders, it’s our job to not only create and hold the vision – we must also be relentless about communicating it and demonstrating behavior that is in alignment of it. A clear, compelling vision has the power to motivate your team to remain loyal to the course, even when doing so is challenging.
5. Recognize people as people, not just workers.
Maintaining a professional atmosphere that includes boundaries around personal relationships at work is important. However, there is a tremendous amount of room within professional boundaries to recognize that the people who work with and for you are humans, dealing with entire lives outside of their work obligations. An important part of inspiring loyalty is paying attention to major milestones in the lives of our people – things like birth, death, marriage and divorce. When we demonstrate to our staff that we notice and care about their lives, we are much more likely to cultivate feelings of devotion.
The best leaders are not revered because they demanded loyalty – they earned it through deliberate attention to their words, actions and attitudes. This is notable, because loyalty doesn’t come easy, and it’s certainly not a given. Like building trust, it must be carefully constructed with the understanding that it’s terribly easy to tear down. The challenge is to not only build it – but maintain it over the long haul.