Effective leadership – building loyalty



I have often wondered what breeds loyalty?  Affiliation to political parties, supporting your local sports team, playing for the same club year after year, working for the same company, loyalty to the same brand of perfume and simply taking a person’s side are examples of loyalty that we exhibit all the time.

Firstly, what is loyalty? According to the Urban dictionary, loyalty is faithful to a person or cause, firmly in alliance to somebody or something. Always being there for somebody when they need you.

Once you understand the factors that help breed loyalty in others, you will be able to build certain attributes in your value system.  As a leader, such value system will help create loyal followers for you. This in turn builds leadership qualities in you. In considering loyalty towards certain individuals or leaders, I believe the following personal attributes play a big role in fostering loyalty:

1.       Trust – if you are someone that can be trusted at ALL times, you will gain the loyalty of people around you. 

2.      Be morally correct.  Along with trust, this is another attribute that attracts followers. People are loyal to those who are genuine and take the morally correct position, especially under pressure.

3.      Consistent behavior – be quite predictable on most things, but do spring the occasional surprise. 

4.      Invest in your team-mate, show concern for their development.  Concern should be genuine.  Fake or pretentious concern gets found out pretty quickly and is counterproductive.  Explain “what’s in it for them”.  This is not only a good habit to get buy-in, but also shows that you care for the other person.  Share your knowledge with them.  Creatively allow them opportunities that would ordinarily not be available, but will help them to learn new things and help them grow. 

5.      Communicate – talk to your people.  Talk to them early, clearly and often. Keep them in the loop.  Folks like to be engaged and receive regular updates.  It makes them feel “confided in”.  You do not have to leak confidential information, but simply ensuring someone gets to hear an update personally from you goes a long way in fostering loyalty.

6.      Give people a chance.  Delegate certain activities that show you trust them with important stuff. 

The story goes that Edison and his assistant were trying hard for several months to build a glass container that would form the shell of the light-bulb.  Over and over again they would use the glass blower to form the container, but it remained brittle and would shatter.  Finally after a few hundred attempts over a year or so, they tried a different composition of the mixture.  Edison was sitting upstairs in his study taking some notes and his assistant had just finished blowing the glass.  Amazingly it did not break, but showed a certain strength which is exactly what they were striving for.  Eager to show off this product, the assistant grabbed the glass container and rushed upstairs to show it to Edison.  As he opened the door, Edison looked up and they both smiled, but the glass slipped from the assistant’s hand and broke as it fell on the floor.

It took them another whole month to build a similar glass container.

They built it.  The assistant did his best to keep his hands off the glass this time around.  But Edison would have none of it.  Edison insisted that the assistant carry it upstairs to the study where they would measure its dimensions and write out a report.

The lesson that sticks out from this story is the trust Edison placed on his assistant.  He forgave the assistant for a “good faith” error in handling the container the first time.  I am sure the assistant would do anything for Edison after that show of trust.

Conversely, Edison could just as easily have carried the container on his own, reminding the assistant of the previous mishap.  Given the circumstances and the importance of the invention, this would be the expected behavior.  Would that have created the same level of loyalty?

7.      Be a sounding board – simply listen

8.     Admit when you are wrong – this sends two strong messages.  First that you are human and can make mistakes.  This helps people to relate to you.  Secondly, it shows a willingness to take a step forward when you don’t have all the information and a willingness to take a chance.

9.      Accept that people will fail occasionally.  But ensure that they learn from it.  The only person that never fails is the person that never does something new.  Accepting the occasional failure and not admonishing it severely helps foster an environment of innovation and creativity.  People around you become eager to try out new things, if they know that a genuine failed attempt would not be castigated.

10.  Offer to do things that usually no one would expect you to do.  It sends a strong message.  I discovered that innocuous acts by the leader or captain such as bringing food to a late-night working session, taking the time and effort to make a personal visit or offering to pick up a team-mate on the way to a cricket match helps build a tight bond.

11.   Remember some important personal details about your team-mate.  It could be simple things such as their child’s name and interest and asking about them, or following up on their personal interest, any issues that they share with you, etc.  If you find an article online or a book that would interest someone in your team, let them know.  Such simple things are not only noticed, they are remembered for a long time.

12.  Stay true to your word.  Keep promises.  If you say you will do something, do it.  Or let them know that you attempted but could not do it for a genuine reason.  But don’t just drop the ball and not mention it.  When you are the leader all your actions and spoken words are taken very seriously by your team. 

13.  Stand by your team.  Support their actions in public, even if you inwardly feel they erred, as long as it is done honestly and in good faith. 

14.  Be one amongst the team.  Don’t have any “attitude” that separates you from the team.

The qualities listed above are from my experiences and there would certainly be others that could be added.  Do share yours!

Image: (c) www.flickr.com; author: russteaches