Creative Leadership

It’s Time to Stop Worrying About Everyone’s Loyalty

There was a time when loyalty was everything. My father’s generation worked at the same company for an entire career, professional athletes stayed long term with a single team, and Ford people would never dream of owning a Chevy. In those days, loyalty to a job was assumed. I’ve actually seen employees fired – not because they were incompetent – but because the boss didn’t feel like they were loyal enough.

But things have changed.

Today, the concept of “loyalty” has all but disappeared from the culture. Four of the five biggest global brands didn’t even exist when I was in college. Competition for great employees is high. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that three in four workers age 16 to 19, and half between 20 and 24, have been with their current employers for less than a year. Some research indicates that the average person will have as many as seven different jobs over their career. As a result, this generation of workers have a lot more than loyalty to think about.

The problem is that most leaders haven’t read the memo, and still assume employees should be loyal above all else. But the reason loyalty doesn’t work anymore is that loyalty assumes that no matter how poor your salary, working conditions, stress on the job, or how bad your boss, you’ll stick with the job simply for that intangible thing called ‘loyalty.’

As a result, in my experience, the bosses most obsessed with loyalty are the bosses that care little for anything else. After all, with loyalty, you don’t need to actually inspire, encourage, or lead your team.

So it’s time to lose your expectation of loyalty, and understand that your team is looking for meaning and purpose.  It doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate the job, or what you’ve done for them. It’s just that today, employees are searching for so much more.

Help them find that “more” and you’ll have more commitment than you know what to do with…

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13 Comments

  1. I get what you’re saying, but loyalty is something you EARN from an employee. It’s is a gift, of sorts, for going beyond the salary and job needs of your employee. In the indie film world, I can’t generally pay my key crew what they get on bigger shows. But I treat them well, try to give them more than they expect in terms of food and accommodations and (most importantly) respect, and in return they usually will show up for the next show as well if it works with their schedule.

    I can only hope for loyalty from someone if I give them enough reasons to be loyal.

  2. As someone who teaches and works in criminal justice, I would take some issue with you regarding loyalty. While I think that leaders need and can and should do many things to imbue loyalty in their employees, loyalty is incredibly important.

    One of the problems in CJ now, especially law enforcement is the failure to hammer loyalty to the newbies. It is an important concept. I would encourage all leaders and employees to watch The Musketeers, many a life lesson to be learned there.

    Watch it and read this blog.

    1. I understand where you’re coming from, however, my very point is that loyalty can’t be “hammered” into anyone – especially with this generation. That may be why criminal justice is struggling with the issue.

      1. I probably used the wrong word in hammer, and I hadn’t thought about it in quite that way. Thank you.

        Still, though, loyalty must be something to value in both employees and in leaders.

        1. No question Jeff – it should be valued. I just believe most leader’s expectations are too high for this generation of employees, volunteers. and team members.
          Thanks so much for contributing to the conversation!

  3. I have seen this in several situations especially with older “leaders” who score dismally low on leadership skills especially with inspiration and encouragement. Definitely a generational disconnect that I hope the younger workers learn from and correct as they achieve their leadership opportunities.

  4. Very interesting post, Phil. It’s interesting, I’m 31 years old and for the past 10+ years of my life, I’ve heard so many Christian leaders stress the importance of being faithful, staying faithful, and being loyal to leaders. While I’ve always believed that to be true, I don’t think that means we need to stay in one place or under one leader forever. In fact, I believe a lot of young leaders are wasting years of their development working at a place that isn’t the best for their development for the sake of loyalty.

    I think you nailed it when you said, “But the reason loyalty doesn’t work anymore is that loyalty assumes that no matter how poor your salary, working conditions, stress on the job, or how bad your boss, you’ll stick with the job simply for that intangible thing called ‘loyalty.’ I wish more baby boomer leaders would understand this! Thanks for writing this!

  5. Was once fired by a big church for being perceived as not “loyal.” Simply for bringing up a thorny issue of production decisions not being made by production, but by someone who purchased the tv time & who had no production experience.. Churches & ministries are a whole ‘nother ball game compared to TV shows, stations & channels. Competence is the #1 skill desired in TV. Loyalty is #1 with churches. I’ve seen scores of incompetent people in churches that should have been let go, but stayed in their jobs because they were a relative, friend and/or loyal. And were “nice” people. But far too many were underwhelming in job performance. Phil, you’ve written about this before: Competence vs Loyalty.

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