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Why being loyal is damaging our union

On Tuesday night we watched yet another State of the Union address. Regardless of where you stand on the president, there is no doubt that gridlock is alive and well in politics, as our leadership’s focus lurches from one news cycle to the next.

At a time where lines seem drawn harder than ever, why is loyalty not the answer?

{mosads}I was recently in Washington, D.C. for an interview where it’s all about being loyal. I was asked to explain the difference between being loyal and being a loyalist. In a town where being loyal is a highly valued attribute that is a great question.


The type of loyalty we see in D.C. today is about being loyal to a person, an ideology, a particular agenda; so often at the cost of some other person or group.

Being loyal in the world of politics can mean disregarding the facts, spinning the data into something that is unrecognizable from its original source. It may even mean lying for the person who demands our loyalty or expecting others to lie to cover for us.

At the end of the day it always plays out with people unwilling to engage with each other in civil discourse and honest debate. We hear about it in so many different ways — leaders demanding and commanding personal loyalty.

In a place where quid-pro-quo is a widely understood and accepted way of doing business, loyal alliances are formed down pre-determined party lines. And the loyalty of intra-party alliances form and dissolve in the blink of a news cycle.

Our country and our Capitol don’t need a lesson in what it means to be loyal, we need to understand what it means to be a Loyalist.

I know from my research that top performing teams always meet our definition of what it means to be a loyalist team.

Loyalist teams are those teams where employees are totally engaged and producing their best work. I also know from the research that such teams outperform peers who are not thriving by 147 percent in earnings per share.

That’s a compelling number, supporting the argument that organizations and businesses who want to be at their best should be looking to develop loyalist teams and encouraging and demonstrating loyalist behavior.

What does it mean to be a loyalist? Loyalists seek to be the best version of themselves, showing up unconditionally in every relationship as a loyalist to those with whom they are engaged.

Loyalists are driven to support an agenda that is larger than themselves, committed to producing the best outcomes for their team, their company and in D.C. hopefully the people they represent and their country.

Loyalists set aside personal goals and agendas, and are willing to make sacrifices in order to be able to deliver the greater goal for the greater good. Loyalists are willing to walk away from ego and the need to be right and to win for themselves.

Loyalists demand honest conversation, push back and challenge as opposed to demanding blind agreement. Loyalists seek diverse views whereas loyalty seeks pandering and falling in line. Washington D.C. doesn’t need more loyalty it needs more loyalists.

How do you know if you are acting as a loyalist?

Extend trust and assume positive intent

With a few exceptions, most everyone wants to do their best work and to add value. When the stakes and emotions are high we often don’t give others the benefit of the doubt. If you don’t understand someone’s motivation or actions, ask what’s going on. Stay in the conversation.

Set aside personal goals and agendas

Seek to align with others around a higher goal and purpose. How might your own goals be served by delivering that bigger goal? Succeeding together against that higher goal creates momentum to crush those other goals.

Be open to idea someone else might have the best answer

Know being right doesn’t mean you are being effective. Arguing with facts, showcasing your skill and knowledge puts others into argue and defend mode. Instead, look to connect with colleagues through demonstrating your commitment to them, painting a picture of mutual success, and being genuinely curious about their point of view.

Seek feedback and challenge each other to become better

Loyalists are open to giving and receiving feedback and having the tough discussions. That’s how we improve. We are at our best when the conversations are totally authentic and completely transparent and the goal is together to produce the best outcome.

Linda Adams is a leadership development expert and co-founder of the Trispective Group.  She is the co-author of The Loyalist Team: How Trust, Candor, and Authenticity Create Great Organizations.


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