It is not uncommon in conversations with leaders and their staff to have the issue of loyalty come up. I have heard many leaders say, "my highest value for staff is that they are loyal." That statement, however it is made begs several questions: loyal to what or whom and what is the operative definition of loyalty?
Whenever I hear leaders talk about loyalty as one of their highest values, yellow flags go up in my mind. For many leaders, loyalty means that staff will agree with them or if not at least not take issue with them. And, that they will follow the party line with others. Disagreement means that the staff member is not loyal and that becomes cause for mistrust in the best case and dismissal in the worst case. This definition usually reflects either narcissism or at least deep insecurity on the part of the leader.
I actually deeply believe in loyalty but strongly disagree with the definition that many leaders have. First, the best loyalty is to the mission of the organization not simply to an individual. We require our staff to live within the philosophical boundaries of our organization. They include our mission, our guiding principles, our central focus and our culture. These are well known, clearly articulated and critical if we are going to achieve our God given mission. When loyalty is primarily to a central leader rather than to the mission of the organization, what happens when the leader leaves? Healthy leaders build a commitment to the mission rather than to themselves.
This has implications for the ability or lack of ability to have candid and robust dialogue over critical issues. When loyalty is defined as agreement with the leader, any disagreement is seen by him/her as a threat and a sign of disloyalty (a highly dysfunctional view of leadership and loyalty).
On the other hand, when loyalty is to the mission of the organization, candid feedback, robust dialogue and the clash of ideas is highly valued because all are committed to seeing the best for the organization and the mission they together are committed to. Thus one's definition of loyalty has a direct correlation on the ability of staff to speak their minds and be candid in their assessments. When loyalty is defined as agreement with the senior leader it shuts down discussion. When loyalty is defined as a commitment to the organizational mission, it invites discussion.
I once worked for a leader who did not appreciate disagreement of any sort. The result was that most individuals told him what he wanted to hear - to his detriment. There were several of us who simply told him the truth as we saw it and we were called the unholy trio. What he did not understand is that we had the best interests of both himself and the ministry in mind when we were candid. Several times I told him that I was in the wrong place if I could not express my views with him.
I want a loyal staff. I want them to be as passionate and loyal to what God has called us to be and do as I am. It is not a loyalty to me but a shared loyalty to a calling to reach the world with the Gospel. That means that we need the very best thinking and dialogue as to how to achieve that within our non-negotiable framework. Therefore we invite rather than squelch differing opinions. After all it is not about us but about the mission.
Posted from Washington DC
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