Can loyalty go too far? - Michelle Gibbings

Can loyalty go too far?

If you’ve ever watched the TV show Survivor, you’ll know that as the game unfolds, the cast members build alliances, ditch alliances and generally scheme as they try to plot their way to the top of the totem pole.

Loyalty between the players lasts for a while, but they know that they’ll need to cast it aside to win the game.

Sometimes workplaces resemble a game of Survivor as loyalties form, shift and subside.

Such changes are particularly prevalent when an organisation is restructuring or experiencing difficulties (e.g. when sales numbers are down, a project is behind schedule, or there is a messy issue affecting customers). You also see it when senior leaders change roles, and there is jockeying for positions as people navigate the new political landscape.

In those situations, loyalty can work for you or against you – depending on the person you are loyal to and who is loyal to you. You can find that the people who you thought were loyal have stepped backwards from providing support and have shifted their allegiance.

Loyalty is important because it strengthens connections and relationships. American author Mario Gianluigi Puzo, best known as the author of the book ‘The Godfather’, once remarked: “The strength of a family, like the strength of an army, is in its loyalty to each other.”

At work, it feels good to have loyal people around you. A boss who supports and encourages you. Colleagues who will be there when you need them and don’t have hidden agendas. Team members who have your back, buy into your ideas and support their implementation.

But can loyalty go too far?
What would you do if the person you are loyal to asks you to do something you disagree with or goes against your ethics? What if being loyal to someone means being disloyal to yourself?

While the word loyalty evokes positive and healthy sentiments, it can also provoke unhealthy feelings, mainly if loyalty is about allegiance and adherence without questioning.

Loyal to yourself
Firstly, let’s start with you because we often don’t think about being loyal to ourselves. In essence, it’s about self-care. That is, treating yourself with the same kindness, care and compassion you would show to others.

Prioritising the time to ensure you are in the best physical and mental shape is essential. When you fail to properly care for yourself, it’s impossible to be your best each day at work.

Consider, are you loyal to yourself and your needs, or do you subjugate your needs to the needs of others?

Loyal to others
Next, let’s consider loyalty to the people with whom you work. Being loyal isn’t just about supporting them, doing what they want you to do, or saying what they want you to say.

The most loyal friends and work colleagues are the ones who want the best for the other person. Consequently, they are willing to have tough conversations. These are conversations they don’t want to have (or likely enjoy having) because they know the message is hard to hear. They aren’t spiteful but courageous conversations designed to enhance the relationship and secure optimal outcomes. You step into the discussion with an open heart and mind.

The most loyal friends will say what you need to hear, even when it’s hard to hear.

Loyalty in teams
In a team environment, you want to strive to nurture a team that supports and backs each other – one that is loyal. It can be easy, however, to fall into the trap of mistaking agreement for loyalty.

The best teams can be loyal to each other and still fiercely and productively debate and disagree with each other. If everyone is blindly loyal, they miss the opportunity to learn and grow. The issues that need airing stay underground. Dissent is silenced because disagreement is construed as disloyalty.

Encourage your team members to question, challenge and be forever curious. With those factors at the forefront, they will be more willing to challenge assumptions and expectations and dig into the roadblocks holding the team back. They will also be ready to engage in spirited conversations, which requires them to show up, think deeply about their perspectives, and be open to change.

Loyalty matters, but not at the expense of debate, learning and progress, and ethical decision-making.

Getting you ready for tomorrow, today®

Michelle Gibbings is a workplace expert, the award-winning author of three books, and a global keynote speaker. She’s on a mission to help leaders, teams and organisations create successful workplaces – where people thrive and progress is accelerated.

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