When CEOs look around at the employees around them, ideally the word “loyalty” will spring to mind. Having employees that will carry out the leader’s vision in a real and thoughtful way can be a significant element of a business’ success.
In a story for Entrepreneur, Charlie Harary examines loyalty, and he uses the work of the late Josiah Royce, author of The Philosophy of Loyalty, as an example.
“Royce explained that loyalty requires a cause, a mission or purpose greater than the individual,” Harary explains. “Each of us, he said, wants to be part of something outside us. … But Royce noted that, while a cause is greater than any one individual, ‘[T]he cause to which a loyal man is devoted is never something wholly impersonal.’ If you want loyal employees, they need to feel personally connected. The job of a corporate leader is make the employees feel personally connected to it.”
Here’s a look at the importance of loyalty for business leaders.
Understand loyalty’s effects
Motivation is an important part of business loyalty. Those employees that don’t feel inspired by the leadership may not have the drive to excel in their roles. As Harary writes in his Entrepreneur story, “If employees are disengaged and disconnected, it costs the company in lackluster service, production inefficiency or poor customer service.” And they likely won’t stick around, he adds, which introduces a new set of problems.
“High turnover is expensive, as the company loses knowledge, overworks its remaining staff and spends money hiring and training new people,” Harary notes. “ … As the leader, you need to set the tone that employees are not mere hired hands but people with needs, desires and dreams. You need to understand what inspires them and how you can make them feel personally appreciated for their service and connected to the overall mission.”
The initial stages with employees
When a business is new, a CEO may be more personally involved in the day-to-day activity than in a long-established operation. This may create initial bonds, but as Kyle Lacy writes in a story for Openview, “this level of intimacy” can become problematic. He features coaching consultant Alisa Cohn in the story.
“‘Because of how closely they work with their teams, new CEOs have an incredible amount of loyalty to their people,’ Cohn explains. ‘This is a wonderful quality, but it may not allow the CEO to accurately assess each person’s talents, strengths, and weaknesses.’ It’s a little bit like the old adage about being unable to see the forest for the trees. In addition, startup CEOs also have to factor in that the organization is in a constant state of change and, as a result, the kinds of people needed for different roles is also in a constant state of change.”
The element of fear
Here’s a problematic form of loyalty. If employees appear to go along with the vision of a CEO strictly because of his or her power, and not because they believe in the leader or the direction, that can create anxiety and a difficult work environment. Mike Myatt examines this for n2growth.com, noting that “Loyalty commanded is fleeting, loyalty earned is enduring.” And, he says, “being feared as a leader is not a badge of honor to be sought after.”
“It’s one thing for employees to have a healthy respect for you, but quite another to be in fear of you,” he explains. “Remember that respect is earned, and fear is imposed. Fear based motivations don’t instill loyalty, create trust, build morale, inspire creativity, attract talent, or drive innovation. The truth is fear stifles, and if left unchecked, eventually kills all of the aforementioned attributes. … As a leader, if you believe that instilling fear in your employees is a good thing, you may be a tyrannical bully, but you are certainly not an effective leader.”
Avoid ‘yes men’
Just as feared CEOs can fail to inspire their support team, so can they attract the wrong kinds of employees. It can be risky for business leaders to build a team full of people who will go along with anything, rather than offering a differing perspective, as Myatt writes.
“Feared leaders either surround themselves with like-minded people, or train people to share their views in a vacuum,” he explains. “Either way they lose. Great leaders value the opinions of their team whether or not said views happen to be in concurrence with their own beliefs. The best leaders not only subject their ideas to scrutiny — they openly encourage it.”
Examine how employees treat CEOs
In some businesses, the boss in the corner office may seem unapproachable. This can create a bigger divide between CEO and employees. When a more cordial environment is established, it can help to foster loyalty. It can humanize the boss in a way, as Jeff Haden writes for CEO.com. He uses a clever comparison, calling back to how strange it was as a child to see your teacher at the grocery store: “She wasn’t supposed to exist outside of school. …Your teacher wasn’t a person; she was a teacher.”
“Lots of employees see their bosses that way, too,” Haden writes. “That means they don’t see you as someone with dreams and hopes and insecurities and fears. You’re not a person; you’re a boss. Truly loyal employees embrace both sides of the employer-employee relationship: They realize you want what’s best for them by helping them reach their professional and personal goals — and they also want what’s best for you, both at work and in your personal life. They see you as more than just a boss, and they treat you that way.”
Employee dissent and support
As mentioned with the dangers of “yes men,” the element of debate and expressing differing opinions can be a valuable component of any business. How and when employees do this is another matter. As Haden writes, “Truly loyal employees trust they can share their opinions as freely as you do. In fact, they trust that you want them to — because you and the company benefit from an honest exchange of differing opinions and points of view.”
However, there are limits. A CEO’s final decision may not always be a popular one. How managers and employees carry out the order speaks to the loyalty within the business, as Haden writes:
“I guarantee you’ve been in at least one meeting where someone said, ‘Look, I don’t think this is the right thing to do, but I’ve been told we’re going to do it anyway. So let’s at least try to give it our best shot.’ After that little speech does anyone ever try to give it their best shot? Even when they disagree with a decision, truly loyal employees don’t try to prove you wrong. They do everything they can to prove you right.”
Loyalty runs both ways
A dedicated and loyal staff is of course the goal, but those employees should feel the same sentiment coming from the top. Rob Enderle explores this for CIO.com, noting that loyalty is a CEO’s “most powerful tool.”
“CEOs aren’t independent contributors,” he writes. “They depend on their folks to do what they ask of them and to have their backs. Loyalty isn’t unilateral. If they aren’t loyal to their people their people won’t be loyal to them. The best CEOs are often defined by the fact that their people would do anything for them voluntarily. The worst CEOs are defined by employees who throw celebrations when they leave.”