Loyalty is Getting a Bad Name

By | May 16, 2017

[May 16, 2017]  A few nights ago I got a call from one of my close friends who retired just before me.  As a Vice Admiral (three-star Flag Officer) he was one of the truly most exceptional leaders produced by the U.S. Navy in the last 50 years.  Our conversation revolved around the meaning of loyalty and how we have strayed from its need and purpose.  Here is the general sense of our talk.

Loyalty is getting a bad name.  Many of us old military types have been watching media talking heads describe how the U.S. President Donald Trump requires loyalty from those who work for him.  They variously described any requirement for loyalty as childish, unethical, crazy, old-fashioned, and in this case unconstitutional.  They ignore that loyalty goes both up and down and it works.  To quote Ronald Reagan, “You’ve got to give loyalty down, if you want loyalty up.”

Loyalty is a necessary component of leader success; specifically intense loyalty is absolutely necessary.  In the olden days before democracy was established, loyalty was achieved through various means including death and torture for the unfortunate soul caught violating it.  Of interest to us is that the concept of loyalty was rarely even discussed by philosophers until the 1960s but leaders throughout humankind knew that without loyalty, no leader could stand.

As a concept to be studied, loyalty has been tainted by the historical events of World War II and the results of loyalty to repressive regimes such as Nazi Germany, Communist Russia, and Imperial Japan.  In the 1980s loyalty again gained attention due to the gaining popularity of how moral principles, professionalism, and the applied study of ethics can improve commercial success through better profits.

The military, commercial enterprises, universities, associations, non-profits … all organizations are comprised of teams.  Anyone who believes that organizations run on and depend upon the individual is blind to the idea of teams and loyalty to the team.  Everyone is part of a team.  The world wouldn’t exist without it and anyone believing different has bought into one of several false ideologies that push the “I” over the “we.”

The heart and soul of success is built on the foundation of loyalty of everyone to others.  The leader, for example, is loyal to everyone that the leader teaches, mentors, and coaches.  Likewise, even the lowest paid and newest member is part of that same team and is expected to give their loyalty to the team, the organization, and to its leaders.

While the current talk by inexperienced media commentators may think that the concept of loyalty is out of date, that is hardly the truth.  Just look at any organization to see for yourself; those with the greatest loyalties of its employees will also be the most successful.

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