I’ve always been a fiercely loyal person. I think it’s a good character trait to have, although it can bite you in the ass when you’re loyal to the point of being blind.
Many people will use adjectives like “cutthroat” or “vicious” when describing top executives. And we’re all familiar with “ladder climbers” — those people that would step on your head as they climbed the corporate ladder. Even top executives and business owners that trample toes and ruffle feathers along the way have to be loyal to someone, somewhere.
Loyalty is a good trait for a business person to have. And loyalty can be expressed quite clearly with partners, employees and clients. Loyalty provides meaning to your interactions with others. It creates a unity between people that can make a company stronger and more successful.
But it’s also possible to be too loyal to others. Blindly following others is always a bad idea. Blindly or blandly accepting what others tell you leads to your own marginalization. Loyalty expressed as hero worship opens the door for your heroes to mete out abuse.
The worst result of loyalty to others is inaction.
When you’re unable or unwilling to make decisions or move your own life forward because of loyalty to others you’re in serious trouble. And the reason is this:
You should always be most loyal to yourself.
That sounds greedy, but it’s true. If you don’t take care of yourself – what you want and need – it’s rare that others will automatically do it for you. By knowing what you want, and always working to align that with your business goals, you can balance loyalty to employees, partners and customers more easily.
A concrete example of this problem is a person that wants to leave his company but doesn’t. They’re unhappy, they want to pursue other opportunities, but they’re also a co-owner of the business. The other partners will be upset, and leaving will create a serious gap in expertise that could really damage the business. And how will the employees feel when their leader leaves? Will they abandon ship too? Or maybe they’ll just feel abandoned, lowering their motivation and making them less effective.
These are real concerns. Knowing these issues, the person sits on it and never leaves. But they’re frustrated and overly stressed, leading to deteriorating relationships at work and at home. It’s not a healthy situation. Although loyalty isn’t the only reason the person stays, it’s a huge factor; he’s been working with this team for almost 10 years…
Eventually, the person leaves.
He has to or he won’t survive emotionally and physically. Loyalty to himself rules out in the end over loyalty to others. It’s the best situation for him, and he works with the partners and employees to make the transition as easy as possible.
What’s the moral of the story?
When starting a new business with partners, loyalty needs to be put on the table. Some questions that should be asked and discussed include:
- How committed is everyone to the new business?
- Will people jump ship if certain success targets aren’t met?
- Are people working on other projects?
- What are the workload expectations for each person? Are they equal? Fair?
- Who considers the project their “baby”?
As well, when assessing the value of a partner in a new business (or when hiring an employee), you need to think about loyalty, and try to gage that characteristic in the person. Some things to think about:
- Did the person jump a lot from one commitment to another?
- Would I consider the person a friend?
- Did the person have success working in a team environment?
- Does the person talk about things like loyalty, team work, etc.?
Remember: Loyalty to yourself first and everyone else second.
In business you want loyal partners and employees, but you also need to realize that most of them should also be loyal to themselves first too. Don’t abuse the loyalty of others. And when it’s time, use your strong loyalty to self to do what’s best for you.