The essence of loyalty is trust. To earn loyalty, leaders must first earn the trust of those they work with, whether it be colleagues, superiors or subordinates. Earning loyalty can only be done through positive actions. You must prove by what you do that you are worthy of it.
Everyone in a management position knows that to succeed they need to have the trust of their superiors, and without it, there will be no promotion or greater responsibility. However, too many neglect to gain the trust of their subordinates, thereby failing to earn the loyalty of those who can assist them to more quickly and easily achieve success. I would argue that managers who do not earn the loyalty of their subordinates are not fit for high promotion, however well they may do other parts of their jobs. They are squandering a critical resource — the company’s potentially highly motivated employees — which will mean any task will take longer and cost more to achieve.
Any organization has a right to expect a commensurate degree of loyalty from those it pays to do a job, and people will generally give their employer that. But if they distrust their superior or the general leadership of the company, then they will come to work, they will do what they need to do to get by but nothing more. In order to really thrive, a company must have a dedicated, enthusiastic and loyal staff.
I once worked for a COO who, when the smallest thing went wrong, would run about in a panic proclaiming, “It’s a disaster,” frantically conducting a witch hunt to find someone to blame. Earthquakes are disasters; tsunamis are disasters. The things that go awry in our work lives seldom merit the status of a “disaster” and leaders who exude an air of confidence and calm in the face of the unexpected will earn the trust of their subordinates. Those who panic at every minor crisis and take their anxieties out on their staff when under pressure will never gain their loyalty.
I had the misfortune of working for another superior who lacked any personal integrity. There are seldom any secrets in a company, everyone knows someone in the accounts department or picks up a forgotten spreadsheet left on the copier — and people always talk. However, he would lie as a matter of course, he would make promises he knew he couldn’t keep, say one thing to one person and something completely different to another, tell people things that he knew were untrue and that they knew were untrue. If he’d been any brighter or honest with himself, he would have realized that they were smart and perceptive enough to know he was a liar. Those without integrity are rightly despised and distrusted; they are unworthy of loyalty.
Leaders who are not loyal to their staff can never expect loyalty from their subordinates. Being loyal to them doesn’t mean being soft or being best friends or not demanding of the best. It does mean taking responsibility for the actions of subordinates when things go wrong and not distancing yourself by putting all the blame on them. It means being understanding of shortcomings, mistakes and failures — and being constructive in discussing how they can be avoided in the future. It means being open and upfront about what you want done, without any hidden agendas. It means never publicly criticizing your subordinates because it will undermine their self-confidence and trust in you. It means giving appropriate praise and credit where due. It means making a conscious effort to do the right thing by your subordinates because loyalty is always earned, it is never conferred.
Julian K. Hutton is president of Merlin Hospitality Management, where he oversees the company’s hotel management and distressed asset management operations, drawing on 20 years’ experience in the worldwide travel and hospitality industry. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.