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Leadership & Loyalty

For those of you not familiar with the two characters from Band of Brothers depicted above, they are polar opposites in terms of their approach to leadership. Captain Soble (left) represents a leader in rank only, whose efforts to intimidate his men are a classic example of fear based leadership. Shown at right is Lt. Winters, who leads by example and inspires the loyalty of his men by demonstrating he is worthy of their trust in even the most difficult of situations. In today’s post I’ll examine the value of loyalty as it relates to leadership.

Is it just me, or has loyalty become rather scarce these days? Anyone who’s been in leadership for any length of time has likely pulled more than a few knives out of their back. Bottom line – there seems to be way too much focus on “me” and not enough focus on “we” these days. There have always been those who have fostered trust and earned loyalty, as well as those who have abused both for personal gain. But in this “what have you done lately for me” society where relationships have degenerated into little more than stepping stones, loyalty seems to be elusive as best. One of a leader’s most important functions is to create an environment where trust and loyalty are the rule and not the exception.

If relationships are the currency of leadership, it is important for leaders to note that loyalty serves as the cornerstone of any healthy relationship. Leadership and loyalty go hand-in-hand. In fact, so much so that leaders who fail to understand this simply won’t endure the test of time. While successful leaders share many common traits, all great leaders have one thing in common – they are not only adept at earning the loyalty of those they lead, but they also recognize that loyalty is a two-way street. When it comes to loyalty, the simple rule is that you will not receive what you will not give.

I think it’s important for leaders to do a gut check and take note of the difference between fear based loyalty and trust based loyalty. As a leader, do you command the loyalty of those around you because of your title, or have you earned it by gaining their trust and respect? Loyalty commanded is fleeting, loyalty earned is enduring. Hint…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. 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 stiffles, and if left unchecked, eventually kills all of the aforementioned attributes.

If you’re a leader who has created a fear based culture I can guarantee you two things: 1.) your employees won’t give you their best, and; 2.) when things get tough, or other opportunities present themselves, your employees will cut-and-run at the first option that comes their way because you have failed to earn their loyalty. 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.

Remember that great CEOs see themselves not as masters of the universe, but as inspirational servants, catalysts, teachers, and team builders…Again, I would strongly encourage you to think “leader” and not “dictator.” Reflect back to your time as a student…which educators brought out the best in you? My guess is that it was not the know it all professors who lived to put you in your place and show you how much they knew and you didn’t. My suspicion is your best memories are of those teachers who inspired you, encouraged you, brought out your passion, and challenged you in a positive fashion. I would also suspect you produced you best work for the latter and not the former.

So, how do you tell if your employees respect you or fear you? After reading the above comments it should already be obvious, but just in case, review the 5 items below:

  1. A Team of Yes-men: Feared leaders either surround themselves with like-minded people, or train people to share their views in a vacuum. 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.
  2. Lack of Interaction: Along the lines of number one above, if executives, management, and staff don’t proactively seek your advice and input then you have a respect problem. They either don’t value your contributions, or they know from experience that you’ll treat their inquiry in a belittling fashion. Over time, many fear-based leaders unknowingly train their team to think: “Why even try if there is no upside? The boss will never go for that.”
  3. Lack of Feedback: If as a leader you don’t subject yourself to a 360 review process, then you are not earnestly looking for personal growth and development opportunities. Here’s an ego check – if you do utilize a 360 review, and all the responses are positive, evaluate whether this has occurred because you are feared and are thus the recipient of insincere flattery, or because you have the loyaly and respect of those you lead.
  4. Revolving Door: If you either can’t attract or retain tier-one talent, you are not an effective leader who has earned the respect and loyalty of your team…In fact, upon closer examination, you’ll find that you probably don’t have a team. Sad but true…real talent won’t be attracted to, or remain engaged with leaders who operate on fear-based tactics.
  5. Poor Performance: Leaders who have the respect of their team will outperform those that don’t. Leaders who attempt to use command and control tactics without the necessary underpinnings of real leadership principles will simply not do well. If your organization is not thriving and growing, then the first thing that should occur is a long look in the mirror…Begin your triage by first evaluating your leadership qualities or the lack thereof.

Ask yourself the following question: If your employees held an election today, would you be re-elected as CEO by a landslide, or would you be voted out? Bottom line…what is rightfully earned and freely given (loyalty, trust, and respect) will always outlast what is imprudently acquired for the wrong reasons (the bully tactics of fear-based control). For me it’s an easy call – you stand by those whom you trust and respect, and you don’t abandon them because it’s popular or convenient. Loyalty matters…

What say you – Captain Soble or Lt. Winters?


Image credit: US Department of Defense

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    November 15, 2010 at 6:19 am

    Whenever I see the word loyalty, I am cautious as to how the word will be defined or misrepresented. However, I felt you laid a solid foundation with your explanation of it being a two way street and as a process of developing it as you would trust verses a fear based approach. There are some organizations, business, and leaders who have an expectation that loyalty is a blind loyalty and that it does not preclude any behavioral example from them. Today, if you want brand loyalty, customer loyalty, or employee loyalty, then there are prerequisites of developing these aspects of a relationship — loyalty or trust are developed and are not freely given away — that would be dysfunctional.


      November 15, 2010 at 9:56 am

      Hi Dale:

      Thanks for your comment. I agree with you about the dysfunction of "blind" loyalty. Blind loyalty is not the same a true loyalty because there is no foundation to underpin it. As a result it will be misused, abused and eventually broken. Thanks for sharing your insights Dale.

    Dan Rockwell

    November 15, 2010 at 8:55 am


    Thank you for consistently sharing your insights.

    Perhaps one reason loyalty is rare is it can mean putting others before ourselves. The sticking point of loyalty is you stand with someone because of their character not necessarily their performance. So, when they don't perform well, you stand with them. In this case it's expensive to be loyal. But, thats what it's all about.

    In addition, standing with someone as a person even if they do something stupid is, in my view, an example of loyalty. I may disagree with your poor choices but if you are my friend I'll stand with you as a person. Once again, it can be expensive.

    What a great topic? Thanks for giving me something to think about this morning.




      November 15, 2010 at 10:00 am

      Hi Dan:

      What a great observation about the "price" of loyalty. Loyalty is not free, nor is it cheap. It has a very real cost and when things go bad walking the talk can be very painful and very expensive. But in my opinion that's where the rubber meets the road – the true test of loyalty comes during the tough times, not the good times. Thanks for sharing Dan.

    Avil Beckford

    November 15, 2010 at 11:01 am


    I always like your posts because they are so thoughtful. Because of this instant culture where people expect their needs to be filled right away, a side effect is a focus on me, me, me.

    Unfortunately, all of us can fall into the trap if we are not careful. These days I am learning to step back and think about the other person. I ask myself, what would make the other person have a "WOW" experience and make me feel really good in the process.

    Thank you for writing about this topic. We need more loyalty.



    June 21, 2011 at 11:13 am


    Amen and Amen! I’ll have to view ‘Band of Brothers’. ‘Cross of Iron’ is one of my personal favorites. War movies and military history can be very instructive in bringing to the fore both the best and worst in human nature. 

    I’d follow a Sgt. Steiner anywhere; but the Capt. Stransky’s in management are all too familiar.


      Mike Myatt

      June 21, 2011 at 1:54 pm

      Hi Ron:

      Military history, fictionalized or real, provides us with some of the best and worst case studies in leadership. I’m a particular fan of ancient Geek and U.S. Civil War history. Thanks for stopping by Ron.

    Mark Oakes

    June 21, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    Great post, Mike

    I’m reminded of Stephen Covey, Jr’s pivotal work on the topic of Trust. While it’s hard to pinpoint an actual statistic, Covey makes a compelling case that “the single largest cost driver in any organization is the lack of Trust”.

    Loyalty spawned from fear is a cancer that crushes Trust in any organization. You make a compelling case for restoring this critical element.

    Well done


      Mike Myatt

      June 21, 2011 at 9:39 pm

      Great additions to the thought stream Mark. I would actually take it one step further – Loyalty spawned from fear isn’t loyalty at all…You are correct that it’s a cancer. Well said Sir. Thanks again Mark.

    Girish Konkar

    June 22, 2011 at 7:46 am

    Loyalty is something that is extremely underrated. A loyal workforce works so much more efficiently and smoothly than a disgruntled, detached one. 
    Loyalty breeds through respect. And respect is always a mutual thing. If you do not show respect, you cant expect respect in return.
    Great post!

    On parallel note, I read ‘Why
    leader’s cant ignore the pride principle’ by Terry Starbucker. I thought it might be a relevant read.

    – Girish (http://www.beyondhorizons.in)

      Mike Myatt

      June 27, 2011 at 11:32 pm

      Thanks for your thoughts and the reference to Terry’s post. I’ve long been a fan of Terry’s material and recommend it to anyone interested in another source of information on leadership.


    June 22, 2011 at 8:18 pm



    You are completely correct and
    right on with this posting.


    Any right thinking person
    faced with real leadership challenges will always lean toward Trust Based Loyalty.
    This I observed very early in my military career. Initially as the leader of the
    Supply Platoon in a separate infantry brigade in Alaska, I might find myself with my support personnel at St
    Mary’s, some 500+ miles to the west; at Fort Yukon, 400+ miles to the northeast; and each of those
    elements some 600+ miles from each other. If I hadn’t instilled as system of
    trust based loyalty in these guys prior to them departing, it was not going to
    happen while they were on station. I might, if I was lucky, be able to
    communicate with them one time in a week; if at all.


    There is no substitution for


    John Howard Hatfield


    Subhakar Rao

    June 27, 2011 at 9:12 am

    Mike, you have taken a good example of “Band of Brothers” which is a good movie. According to me Loyalty, trust and respect will always last long.

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