What causes a fan to be loyal to a team? In studying the topic, psychologists have identified two types of fans — the dedicated followers who stick with a team through thick and thin and the glory hunters who support whichever team happens to be succeeding at the time.
The same is true of friends; some you can rely on to stand by your side no matter what ... and others you can’t. Fortunately, many a friendship is still underpinned by unwavering loyalty, but in the world of work, it is a different story.
Once upon a time, employees grappled with a moral dilemma when faced with new job opportunities elsewhere. But these days, the lure of financial incentives and attractive packages often trumps an individual’s loyalty to a firm.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the coin, employer commitment to job security grinds to a halt the moment that loyalty to employees threatens to encroach on company profits. Am I arguing for a return to lifetime employment?
Not at all. But what I am advocating, is the revival of allegiance — the return of devotion to others in the workplace.
To this end, there are lessons to be learnt from the “bay’ah” model, prevalent in the Islamic world. Bay’ah literally means “sale” or “commercial transaction” in Arabic. It is a declaration of loyalty or an oath of allegiance taken by senior members of a community when a new leader takes over.
The pledge may only come from a few individuals, but they represent the will and allegiance of entire groups of people. In this system, members of the public don’t need to give their bay’ah. Rather, it is enough for them to be loyal to the new leader and, in return, the leader pledges his loyalty to them.
In a corporate setting, bay’ah would take the form of employees declaring their allegiance to a new boss, sight unseen. Such a move flies in the face of the prevailing wait and see approach, where employees may be loyal later, but not until that loyalty is earned.
Good leaders who earn allegiance know that loyalty is not a one-way transaction, but a circle, where all points are equidistant from the centre. And where loyalty comes from everyone involved. Inside the circle, leaders know that they must be loyal to their people, or risk rebellion, while the people know they must be loyal to their leaders if they wish to remain in favour.
On all sides, the importance of this fragile balance keeps everyone focused on nurturing the circle.
In a highly functional circle of loyalty, the leader owes loyalty to the employees, and the employees owe it back. It is bi-directional. Think of it as two one-way streets, where both parties focus on being loyal rather than on receiving loyalty or “keeping score”.
In the workplace, bi-directional loyalty between employees and their employer forms the basis of working together.
This kind of loyalty requires you to be devoted and deeply dedicated to somebody or something else — be it a person, an organisation or a cause. It means showing real faith, rather than a temporary, self-serving commitment made to help you get what you want.
The trouble is, we often fixate on the loyalty we expect from others, rather than focusing on the loyalty we display ourselves.
It is not always easy, but to be a good leader, you must concentrate on your own one-way street and strive to remain loyal, even when you don’t feel your people are doing the same.
As a boy growing up, we recited the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of each school day as an expression of loyalty to the country. While I didn’t fully understand or appreciate the words at the time, I never once wondered if the country would remain loyal to me. I was confident it would.
Foster an environment that breeds loyalty, and you too could earn the unquestioning faith of your team.
— Tommy Weir is CEO of the EMLC Leadership Ai Lab and author of “Leadership Dubai Style”. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.