Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Food for Thought: Loyalty

Many of the common unspoken questions in the workplace surround the subject of loyalty and a key one is at what point should loyalty to a boss end?


The answer lies in the fact that there are several stakeholders in the matter. There's the boss, of course, but there are also the other employees, the boss's boss, the organization, the community, the employee, and the employee's family. That may well be a partial list.


The idea that the boss alone should command loyalty misses those other stakeholders. During the Iran-Contra Scandal, Oliver North's secretary may have regarded loyalty to her boss as ample excuse to hide or destroy evidence, but doing so missed a higher loyalty to the Constitution and the nation.


Organizations, such as the Mafia and street gangs, that stress loyalty alone are notoriously deficient in the other ethical virtues but those are easy illustrations of loyalty's limits. What about lesser violations, such as:



  • The employee who gossips to co-workers about the boss's personal problems?

  • The employee who jumps the chain of command to report a disagreement over a relatively minor policy decision?

  • The supervisor who sits silently while upper management gives the supervisor the sole credit for the success of an operation that was a team project?

  • The supervisor who foists a poor perfomer off on another department?

Those little disloyalties don't make the front pages and yet they foster mistrust and division. They may thrive because many people don't think of them as acts of disloyalty or, as in the case of the chain of command jumper, they believe that another virtue, such as pursuit of excellence, has trumped the obligation of loyalty.


The presumption, I believe, should be in favor of loyalty and - I'll go out on a limb here - even mildly inept bosses deserve it. If a safety hazard or its equivalent is present, then clearly any loyalty to the boss has expired but if supervisors had to fear that every fumble or policy disagreement could trigger staff disloyalty, then organizations could lapse into chaos.

3 Comments:

At 3:19 AM, Blogger Rowan Manahan said...

I agree Michael - and it is on that teetering, slightly crumbly pillar of bricks that so many corporate structures are basing their futures.

Why is there a need for a Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Two reasons in my opinion. (1) Because there is no interest like self interest and (2) because there are a lot of mean-spirited folk out there who will trample over your basic rights if they can.

If those self-centred, mean-spirited folk gravitate to positions of power, then we need to have a mechanism which enables their subordinates to protect themselves, the organisation and ultimately the community.

If only I knew where to draw that line ...

 
At 11:53 AM, Blogger Michael Wade said...

That's an interestng point, Rowan. One culprit in many organizations is compartmentalization and the thought that only certain people should worry about certain things. There are values, however, that should not be compartmentalized and need to be respected across the board.

 
At 12:39 PM, Anonymous Steve said...

Nice post which The answer lies in the fact that there are several stakeholders in the matter. There's the boss, of course, but there are also the other employees, the boss's boss, the organization, the community, the employee, and the employee's family. That may well be a partial list. Thanks a lot for posting this article.

 

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