I had a boss once to whom loyalty was a key to whether or not staff were good and should be retained, promoted, involved in initiatives, etc. If the staff were loyal to clients or to a goal or cause, that wasn’t good enough – they had to be personally loyal, to him. When I submitted my resignation to him, I told him about some of my concerns regarding the leadership and management of the organisation. He never spoke to me again, because I was ‘disloyal’ and ‘ungrateful.’ But the fact is, I was deeply loyal to the cause of the organisation and its clients and seeing results improved and furthered.
It was with some satisfaction, then, that as I was working through Edgar Schein’s Organizational Culture and Leadership (2010), I read of some key aspects of Apple’s culture from the early 90s that were clearly re-established when Jobs returned to the company.
Schein worked with Apple line managers and human resources personnel in the early 90s to decipher Apple culture. Among their conclusions was the governing assumption that “Task accomplishment is more important than the process used or the relationships formed” (you’ll find the quote on p. 337). That is, people were loyal to and excited about the task, not the relationships or methods as a rule. Apple even had (probably still has) an explicit mutual “no loyalty contract”, whereby the company did not owe loyalty to staff if there were hard decisions to be made, nor, if staff found greener pastures, did they owe loyalty to the company by remaining.
If you think about leadership and organisations on a broader scale, the world’s greatest despots had tremendously loyal followers and servants: Hitler, Mussolini, Gaddafi. The list goes on. So too, have some of the world’s greats. But dictators and manipulators tend to put personal loyalty above loyalty to the cause. Then, if disagreement comes, you are not being ‘loyal.’ We know that gangs work on this same mentality: it’s about the gang, not about you. People can equally be loyal to the most foolish of causes.
Regular readers know that I place a high value on leaders and organisations treating their staff well. I contend that it’s part of an implied social contract and the contract of leadership. Demanding loyalty without thought and ethic is, however, irrational at best, despotic at worst.
So remove loyalty from your list of virtues. It won’t guarantee results. It has its place, but is subordinate to other true virtues for both followers and leaders.