The Real Truth About Loyalty


With so much talk these days about influence, many people have set their sights on being “influencers.” Whether we’re talking about leadership, change, sales and marketing, safety or social media, we want people to like us (with the click of an onscreen icon or by showing good old-fashioned genuine appreciation). We want them to buy into our ideas and see them as helpful—or at least as better than their ideas! It sounds like the demanding ego of a narcissist, or what we refer to these days as “human behavior.”

Traditionally, we think of loyalty as coming from one of two foundations:

Based in Trust. Unless we’ve had bad experiences or personal issues, we are loyal because we naturally tend to trust those who treat us well. Illustration: I am loyal because I see the Disney version of life and know good things come to people who are good … right?

Based in Cynicism. People are as loyal as their options. They are loyal to what is best for them and will switch to something better if they have the opportunity. Illustration: I’m married to you because the person I really wanted to marry married someone else first!

The easy answer is to say that, at some level, both of these are correct. For example, suppose I’m a manager implementing change. My employees have experienced me as a fair, supportive leader and see that the change I’m asking them to embrace is really what’s best for them long term (or maybe it’s the best option available until a better option shows up, which I can also take credit for). Can’t I expect their loyalty?

The problem with this seeming slam-dunk of an answer is the word loyalty itself. Loyalty is not just about commitment and dedication; it’s about the willingness to stay committed and dedicated. So I’ll pose a valid and potentially crucial question: How do we create the willingness to remain loyal? I’d hazard a guess that the answer has something to do with convenience.

Findings from Pew Research Center, reported in Fortune and elsewhere, reveal that 67% of the population gets its news and information from social media, yet only 5% place a lot of trust in it.* It seems that people are starting to prefer availability far above reliability. And as anecdotal as it may seem, if you look around you’ll find loyalty is directly connected to convenience. I’m sure there was a time when Grandpa would drive 10 miles further to get a better hamburger. But what does that really reveal? People these days are less interested in convenience? It could just as easily mean that old people have a lot of time on their hands and want to enjoy driving before their license is taken away!

What I’m trying to say is I’m not sure we were ever truly loyal to anything that was not convenient. To say that convenience is the foundation of loyalty might be revolutionary to some but not to all. It does seem like common sense. After all, I’m loyal to my local neighborhood restaurant because it’s in my neighborhood. However, the real creation of loyalty may come from sacrifice. It’s what we are willing to give up or endure that may get people to be willing to change. Consider those leaders who get down in the trenches alongside their workers and who experience the transition they’re asking employees to face. Or the store that is willing to offer free delivery. That salesperson who gives the customer his personal cell phone number and says, “I’m available 24/7.” The stay-at-home moms or dads who make their children the clear and obvious No. 1 priority. All these examples demonstrate the willingness to go beyond an average level of effort. Let’s be honest – a lot of people aren’t going to do that. It’s what’s commonly referred to as selfishness, and we can shrug it off as “human nature.”

In the end, if you’re close by, easy to deal with and willing to make the sacrifices, you’ll be surrounded by those who are not likely to ever leave your side. In the business world, that means your employees are likely to stay with you and perform at the highest level. And in your personal life, it means that your kids will be high achievers who are going to live in your house until they’re 30!

*K. Bialik and K.E. Matsa, “Key Trends in Social and Digital News Media,” Fact Tank by the Pew Research Center. 4 Oct 2017. Available at  #garrisonwynn        

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