When is Loyalty a Disadvantage for Change Leaders?

When is Loyalty a Disadvantage for Change Leaders? 
by Edith Onderick-Harvey & James Harvey 

 

When it’s the wrong type of loyalty.

We’ve talked in the past about the importance of building trust in leading change efforts.  Change creates discomfort and disruption to the way people do things and how they interact with others – sometimes in profound ways.  In short, it puts a strain on relationships, and therefore, on loyalty. And what does a leader under pressure to manage a significant change often do, almost reflexively?  They try to leverage the loyalty of others.

There’s good news and bad news in this.   Here’s the good news.  The right kind of loyalty provides a solid foundation for the trust and leadership people are looking for from others during challenging situations.  It makes it easier for a leader to convey the value of the change and enlist others in making it happen.

The bad news?  It’s all too easy to misunderstand the nature of loyalty or to disregard the consequences of “fake loyalty.”  You risk building a house of cards that falls apart under the high stakes and duress that change often brings.

You want to build the kind of solid relationships that allow you and your management team to build long-term change agility into your organization’s DNA.  You want to avoid:

  • Blind loyalty.  This is based on the premise that an idea or argument is right simply because it comes from someone who is in a position of leadership or iinfluence. But great ideas come from robust conversation and differing perspectives.  Blind loyalty doesn’t question. And blind loyalists simply execute the plan.  Don’t count on them to take a lot of initiative to uncover or find solutions to problems that inevitably pop up.
  • Forced loyalty. If someone is demanding loyalty, it is given out of compliance and fear. Forced loyalty may look like engagement to an outsider but it’s not. Underneath the surface is resentment and anxiety.
  • Favor-seeking loyalty. This individual laughs at even your worst jokes and is often way too eager to support your ideas – even the ones you’re not too sure of yourself.  It isn’t about the team or the larger vision. It’s about being rewarded for being a favorite. This type of loyalty is toxic to the team. People recognize what’s happening.  It often creates distrust, jealousy and behaviors that undermine rather than elevate.
  • Conflict-avoidant loyalty. Some people go along to get along.  They always do what’s asked (i.e., they’re loyal) because even modest amounts of conflict make them very uncomfortable.
Loyalty naturally feels good.  Even “fake loyalty” does.  And in the short run, it can have its uses.  But in the long run, it erodes the very relationships you need in order to thrive in a changing environment.   At the very least you can end up surrounded by “yes men.”  There’s an old business adage: if two people always agree, one of you is unnecessary.

When you are a leader implementing change, ask yourself: how do I create buy-in and enhance loyalty? Have you and the organization helped people move through the change curve or have you tried to go from awareness to commitment in one giant step?  We work with leaders every day to create loyalty and move people through the change curve. Read about one of our client’s results.