5 steps in the journey of inspiring loyalty

I have been thinking about the term loyalty over the past week, probably because I talked about it in my last blog, A book that continues to inspire.  What is the value of loyalty?  I have often seen this quote:

“Respect is earned. Honesty is appreciated. Trust is gained. Loyalty is returned.” 

In my opinion, one cannot simply ask for loyalty (well, I guess it never hurts to ask, but it cannot be simply granted).  Loyalty is returned over time. It is the result of conscious respect, honesty and trust over an extended period of time.  As you build upon each step, you build loyal relationships and enjoy a more peaceful life.

1. Hard work comes first

After reading my sister’s blog this week, It’s my job, I was reminded that there really is a step before you can earn respect: hard work.  In our family, that is simply a given.  You could always hear my father stating, ‘Anything worth doing is worth doing well. Don’t worry what others are doing, work hard, cream rises to the top.’ As my father instilled the values in his daughters, I now watch with pride as my sister is successfully instilling that in her children.  I believe it is through hard work that you gain the respect of your peers, your bosses, your friends, family and even acquaintances.

As a leader, my preference is to have a hard working, dedicated, self-aware team member that may lack experience but makes up for it in determination.  I always found that someone that was willing to learn, take the time to research, ask questions and work hard could learn the material. I don’t believe you can teach hard work later in life.  This is a value that is instilled at a young age and is nurtured as we mature.  I had the pleasure of hearing the stories of my father, who started his career in the mailroom and worked his way up to be the president of his company.  Although this seems like the stuff that movies are made from, my father is not a cornerstone example.

Listening to and reading stories about entrepreneurs, there is a recurring theme.  It all starts with an idea, a vision, a passion – the WHY they are doing something.  Apply a lot of hard work, grit and determination, and hope for a little luck and you will have success like Steve Jobs (Apple) and Phil Knight (Nike).  This also applies to athletes like Michael Jordon, scientists like Stephen Hawking and numerous others.  If you read their biographies, they don’t tell you that it was luck, but that it was hard work.

2. Respect is earned

If you work hard, I have found you will earn the respect of others.  Have you ever heard someone say, ‘I don’t respect her, she works too hard’? Worst case scenario might be that others will be jealous of what you are accomplishing with your hard work. I believe hard work is a symbol of good ethics, good people, strong bones.  Think about the people in your life.  Why do you respect some and perhaps not others?  Are there any that you respect that you do not consider hard workers?  I respect my father and mother or their years of hard work and dedication to their jobs and family.

3. Honesty is appreciated critical

The quote states that honesty is appreciated, but in my opinion, it is critical.  Can you really respect and trust someone that is not honest?  To be build loyalty I believe you need to be honest with yourself, your boss, your peers, your employees, your vendors, your customers, basically everyone.  Would you trust or put your loyalty into someone that was not honest?

First, let’s talk about being honest with yourself.  This is one of the hardest things to do, in my honest opinion.  Self-awareness is a term we tend to throw around lightly, “I know my strengths and weaknesses.”  Unfortunately, this tends to just be a well-prepared set of answers for an interview. The real test is whether you are being truthful with yourself to truly identify your weaknesses and then taking steps to improve and/or surround yourself with people that can fill in your gaps.

In the workplace, as you build a team, the best leaders understand their weaknesses and hire people whose strengths compensate for those weaknesses.  This always sounds easy. However, many people are fearful of exposing their weaknesses because someone might exploit those weaknesses and cause harm.  To be honest, there are times that I do not blame people for feeling that way. It’s happened to me, and it’s hurt, I admit it.  However, in those times, I muster up my father’s mantra, “cream rises to the top.”  He taught me to always do what’s right.  I believe that the more honest you can be about yourself the better you can serve others. Knowing your weaknesses and sharing with others will minimize the need to omit the truth, over promise and fail, thus earning the respect of others.

Honesty with others is equally as important.  Over the years there have been many stories that have helped solidify this in my mind and help set it as a priority in my values.  Honesty can make you vulnerable.  It is scary enough to be honest with yourself, but now to share that with others?  I remember vividly sitting in the partner’s office at Ernst & Young.  I was a first-year auditor, barely out of college a year.  I had made a mistake.  A $1M mistake to be exact.  I didn’t do it on purpose, but I knew I had to come clean. I was scared having to face Jim, a very stern, no-nonsense guy. Would he fire me?  He asked me what happened and I told him honestly that I made a mistake.  I didn’t try to blame someone else. I didn’t try and hide it.  I said, “I am sorry, I screwed up.  I did not know the right thing to do, but I can promise you I will not do it again.  I have learned now.”  He looked back at me and thanked me.  He told me that because I had come forward and told him about the mistake and took ownership for it, then he could control the damage and manage it accordingly.  If I had tried to hide it, it could’ve had much bigger ramifications later.  I can tell you, I learned 2 very important lessons that day, 1 – I never missed an account in an audit again and 2 – always tell the truth as early as possible.

On a side note, that meeting with Jim, also had a profound effect on me for another reason.  Everyone used to be so scared of the “partner”.  He was the big boss, difficult to approach, and scary.  I remember walking into his office, looking at a picture on his desk of him, his wife and 3 kids and thinking, ‘hmmm, he is a dad just like my dad. My dad is a big boss, but he still talks to us, teaches us. He is human.”  Jim was approachable and I think that is the reason it was so easy for me to be honest with him.

I also pride myself on being honest with those I work with; my peers, my team, my stakeholders.  Perhaps a bit too honest sometimes. Most people I have met will admit that they always know where they stand with me – good and bad.  As I often say, “I can’t lie.”  However, this helped them know that when I gave them a compliment, I was being genuine.  They also knew if I provided correcting feedback that I had their best interests at heart and wanted them to grow from the experience, not be punished.  I honestly want everyone to succeed (hence my mission to inspire and enable people to realize their goals).  As if you couldn’t already tell, I value honesty and I am comfortable with the potential vulnerability it creates.  I believe that being honest with myself and others allows me to learn and become a better person to serve my family, friends and colleagues.

4. Trust is then gained

I believe it is easy to trust someone when they work hard, you respect them and they are honest all the time.  However, what if you just met someone. Do you know if they are telling the truth?  Can you trust them?  Are you the type of person that needs to wait for proof before you trust?  Or can you trust them until they prove otherwise?

Years ago, I learned you have a choice; trust until someone crosses you or doubt until someone proves that they are worthy of your trust.  I was part of a team building event with a consulting group, S3 Consulting Solutions.  The lead consultant, Steve educated us on this concept of how different people approach life, relationships, decisions, etc.  Nirvana is when everyone can trust that people are coming from a good place.  I chose to be an optimist and trust people first.  This is a core tenant when I am building a team.  This pairs well with my philosophy of believing that no one wakes up with bad intent (check out my prior blog on this topic).  If you can believe that people are inherently good and mean well, then taking the stance to trust first can prove to quickly build a relationship that can grow stronger from there.  Therefore, as I continue to interact with people, it is not about proving whether trust can be earned, but rather ensuring that it is maintained.  “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me”

Trust within a team or relationship is essential and the earlier you can establish it the better. It will eliminate cycles of ‘testing’ or ‘proving’ yourself.  Working from a state of trust, you can speak openly and drive productivity rather than assigning blame.  Steve and team also taught us that it is best to quickly call someone out if you feel that they betrayed your trust, if they did not live up to an agreement.  Rather than reverting to doubt or skepticism, you walk a mile in their moccasins, better understand their intent and remain at a level of trust to move forward.

I have learned that a weakness of mine is not working well with people that come from an initial state of distrust.  Have you ever worked with someone that often second guessed you?  Needed to have the data to back up your statements?  Questioned everything?  To me, that is exhausting.  Because I come from a state of trust first, I struggle to understand where they are coming from. I have since been working to appreciate why someone comes from that place of fear or distrust and do my best to provide them the information and evidence they need to be able to trust.  I am working hard to not take it personally, by walking a mile in their moccasins and appreciating what they need.

5. Loyalty is returned

Just as I felt that we needed to add hard work at the beginning to start a path towards respect, I believe another element critical to building loyalty is being able to articulate the WHY.  When you can share your passion, your vision, your belief system, your values which make up WHY you are doing something, it helps people understand the underlying rationale.  People inherently want to believe in something.  They want to believe in you.  By explaining WHY you are doing it allows people to trust.  It will even help people overlook a mistake, trust even though there is no evidence to support a decision, or accept a gut feel.  When someone can understand WHY you are doing something, trust your intentions, believe you are always honest, and respect your hard work you have laid the foundation of loyalty.

This is why loyalty can take time.  Loyalty will not be returned based upon words alone.  Continuous actions, supporting those words is what builds loyalty.  I believe actions often undercut a person or company’s desire to create a loyal relationship.  If you say honesty is a core principle, but then reward someone for lying, people will quickly know these are only words.  If you tell your child that it is important to always be on time, and then you show up late for soccer practice, it is your actions that will be remembered.

What is the value of loyalty?

My father has another phrase he would say often that sticks in my head, “One ‘aw s**t’ wipes away all the ‘atta boys’.”  I believe that loyalty is when the ‘atta boys’ can override any ‘aw s**t’ that may happen.  There is nothing better than being in a loyal relationship, which is a two-way street.  When trust is in abundance you can spend your time looking forward and making things happen. Otherwise, you spend your time living in fear, waiting for the other shoe to drop, refusing to be open and vulnerable, trying to grab your share before someone else and overall being miserable.  My goal is loyalty all around.

May this inspire you to be loyal to your friends, family and colleagues and receive that loyalty in return.

Loyalty and friendship, which is to me the same, created all the wealth that I’ve ever thought I’d have. – Ernie Banks

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