A friend of mine had worked for a company for approximately ten years. He had done a good job for the company and was loyal to his company. At various times, he had new leaders, and he always maintained his role, did his job, and produced results. In short, he was always a team player. His loyalty to the company was unquestioned.
As luck would have it (bad luck, that is), a new manager was brought in over him. The new manager was different than the other managers and leaders for whom he had worked. It wasn’t that this manager was demanding; that was something that he’d dealt with in many roles he played prior to the decade he spent with the company. He had just never worked for someone who was so adversarial.
His new leader treated him poorly. This leader started with the assumption that anything that he was doing was wrong, and that it was their job to fix it—and him. The leader was aggressive with language and was critical of everything he did, including things that had helped the team he led to success. The attacks weren’t directed at a problem; they were directed at the person (and not just my friend).
My friend decided to seek help from within the company he had worked for over a decade. He knew that the leader was political and had ground cover from the highest offices within the company. His loyalty demanded that he make an effort to change roles, move to another area, or do something so he could stay at the place he considered to be his home. But his requests fell on deaf ears. No one cared about him or his challenge. No one offered to help him. Some avoided the conversation for fear of upsetting his new manager.
When he called me to discuss the issue, I explained to him that his loyalty to the company did not require that he show any greater loyalty than the company’s loyalty to him. If he was a simply a cog, something he never considered himself to be and something completely out of line with his commitment to the company, he owed them no more loyalty than that of a cog. I heard something in his voice when I shared this with him. He recognized he was liberated from his unreciprocated loyalty. He has now moved on to a place where he is valued, and where he is making a contribution.
There is a form of reciprocity in relationships. If you are a leader who seeks loyalty, then be loyal. If you are a salesperson and you seek loyalty from your clients, be loyal to them by continuing to create new value. If you seek something from another party, then go first and demonstrate what you want the relationship to look like.
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