As a leader, what is the true value of loyalty to your organisation, team members and your clients?
I was reminded recently of a leadership lesson that I learnt early in my career. In my first year as an articled clerk in a law firm, I interviewed my fair share of new clients. I would meet with a new client, take their initial statement and explain the legal process to them. I remember that first year was a real eye-opener for me, interviewing lots of people with very different beliefs, upbringings and values to myself.
This one particular morning I had interviewed a client, a woman in her forties and after the meeting I went into the tearoom to have a coffee and chat with my colleagues. I was relatively new to the firm and if I’m honest, I was keen to fit in, to be liked and to make people laugh. I started regaling the story about this client in a way that, I’m ashamed to admit, was nasty and judgemental. I was trying to gain popularity at the expense of my client.
I remember as I was finishing the story, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned around, and there was my leader, a partner of the firm. He said, “Midja, I’d like you to remember one thing. Every time you talk about a client, I want you to imagine that the client is standing right here beside you, where I am standing right now. I want you to imagine that everything you say will be heard by that client.” I went bright red. I was so embarrassed. I felt terrible about what I had said, but it was a lesson that has always stuck with me and one I needed to learn.
Of course, this lesson is not just applicable to our clients, it’s about our team members, our friends, our family, our kids. Every time you talk about someone, imagine that they are standing right there beside you and can hear everything you say. This doesn’t mean that you can’t be constructively critical or hide the truth, but it does mean that you might choose your words more carefully.
Dr Stephen R Covey, in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, discusses the concept of being loyal to the absent. I believe it’s a powerful leadership trait and one that has a significant impact on your brand and reputation.
If you’re not loyal to the absent, then what are you saying to the people that you are actually talking to? You’re saying that the minute their back is turned, that you could talk about them in exactly the same way. It leads to disharmony in the team and doubt in you as a leader. Your people will be sceptical of what you say and suspicious of your actions. Not the best foundation for a productive, engaged and high performing team.
When you talk negatively about others behind their back, there is always the risk that what you’ve said will get back to the person. You know what it’s like and how quickly conversations travel in organisations. There’s always Chinese Whispers being played. You can say one thing in a certain context, and then by the time it gets back to the person you’re talking about, it’s 10 times worse. Try explaining that in your leadership role.
Now, I’m not saying that sometimes you don’t need to let off steam, maybe have a rant once in a while. I get it. Just be very careful about what you say and who you say it to.
I recommend that you have your “person” who you can talk to about anything and everything. Someone who has earnt this position in your life. Maybe a colleague, a friend, a mentor, someone that you can talk to off the record and someone who can also possibly give you the space you need to see the situation differently. The bottom line is of course that if you’re in disagreement with someone or if there is something you want to raise, then talk to the person involved, not everyone else.
As a leader, practicing loyalty to your team – both those who are present and those who are absent, will:
– create security. Your people will feel at ease and you will have a safe environment where people can be themselves and they don’t have to second-guess what is being said about them.
– build a strong connection. You will form strong authentic relationships with the people you are leading.
– gain respect. Your loyalty will show people who you are as a leader. What you stand for. It’s an admirable quality.
– grow your sense of pride in yourself. You will have a clear conscious.
Ultimately all of these outcomes will result in TRUST. Trust in you as a leader which will allow you to positively influence others.
As a leader, your words and your actions are always being closely scrutinised. It comes with the gig. You set the unwritten ground rules. When you give loyalty, you’ll get it back in return and it will become a fundamental part of your team culture.