Company leaders can earn the loyalty and trust of their staff by adhering to the following five leadership pillars:
People work hard to achieve company leadership positions and then wonder why they don’t get the respect and loyalty their title deserves. What these new leaders haven’t realized is that a title alone does not bequeath loyalty. Loyalty is earned. Earned loyalty is a universal truth shared by companies across continents and cultures.
Even within the structured military discipline of the U.S. Army, leaders must earn the respect and loyalty of the soldiers who report to them. When newly minted lieutenants arrive at their first command, the reporting soldiers will refer to the new officer as “the” Lieutenant. Senior officers know the young officer has earned the loyalty and respect of their soldiers when they hear them referred to as “our” Lieutenant. Large and small businesses have similar informal rituals. Watch and listen to the staff who report to the new leaders. Their actions or inactions signal the process of earning their trust and leadership.
So, how does a new company leader earn the respect and loyalty of their reporting staff? The following examples describe how three military leaders earned the loyalty, trust, and respect of their reporting soldiers. Company leaders can apply similar principles to connect with their staff, building loyalty and respect.
General Douglas MacArthur commanded the Korean War from his Tokyo headquarters. During his tenure, he never once visited the Korean theater. He made strategic decisions without considering the potential outcomes of their execution. The soldiers’ morale was at a dangerously low point. General MacArthur was relieved of command.
His replacement, General Matthew Ridgeway, when transferred to command, immediately flew to Korea to address the troops and get a “feet on the ground” view of the situation. A large dais was erected from which he was supposed to speak. Instead, he stood on a wooden crate so that he would be “shoulder to shoulder” with the soldiers. He ended his brief speech with “Gentleman, I promise to give you my utmost and I hope you will give me yours.” The soldiers’ cheers displayed the significant boost to morale that that one moment of accountability and empathy made.
The power of being present and connecting with the people who did the work made the mission and vision happen.
It is difficult for people to believe company leaders are genuinely interested in supporting and growing employees when they don’t step out of a corner office. Being physically present, asking questions, and listening to understand the answers is one way for a company leader to garner the trust and loyalty of their staff.
During 2013, Colonel Scott Jackson was assigned to take command of a brigade of 3800 soldiers returning from Afghanistan. Two weeks before the Change of Command ceremony, it was announced the brigade would be dissolved. The soldiers and their families believed the soldiers would be laid off, mirroring private industry practices. The morale at the ceremony was as low as it could get. Colonel Jackson knew his speech had to address the primary concerns of the soldiers and their families. He told them that they were his primary mission. He assured them no one gets fired from the Army and that anyone who wants to stay in the Army will have a home. He added that in the meantime, their job was to train to be the best soldiers they could be. Before he had finished his speech, the soldiers were shouting their battalion battle cry, “Send Me!” Within 3 minutes Colonel Jackson had reenergized the brigade, rebuilt their trust, and planted the seeds that would build loyalty.
Over the next 17 months, he provided soldiers information as he received it. Soldiers could stop him and ask about their assignments at any time. If he didn’t have the information, he made a note and provided a timely update. Soon, 68% of the soldiers were absorbed into other brigades housed at the base avoiding disruption for those families. Four percent of the brigade were transferred because they held highly specialized skill sets which could not be used at that base location. The rest of the soldiers retired or made a career transfer which would have happened in any case.
It is important for leaders to be accountable to their workers. Leaders should make decisions because their core personal values include “People Matter” and “Do The Right Thing Because It’s The Right Thing To Do.” People don’t trust leaders who try to look good by throwing staff under the bus. Why should they support a leader who does not support them? Positive energy and engagement happen when leaders provide needed support.
General George C Marshall believed in training, education, and experience. He asked the question, “How can I ask a man to successfully perform a task for which he has never been trained?” And thus launched the legacy of strong military training programs.
Although he was known to remove inept officers from their command, there were instances during the war when General Marshall realized that a previously high-performing general was becoming battle weary and initiated what some people referenced as Marshall’s 4R policy: relief, reassignment, recharge, return. Marshall recognized when an officer under his command needed relief. He pulled them from active command and reassigned them to oversee a training camp for a year. The generals were competent; they simply needed a break from the stress of frontline combat. They were able to recharge and share their experience with new recruits and rising officers. When they were ready, he brought them back to a battlefield command. His err and learn policy demonstrated the trust and respect he had for the people who reported to him.
General Marshall was known for promoting candidates even if there were one or two scars on their record. To those who questioned the promotion, he said, “If a man is to pursue a bold and vigorous path rather than one of conformity and acquiescence, he will sometimes err.”
Providing second chances is an important lesson that builds loyalty. People are afraid to fail. They are afraid they will be publicly humiliated or fired. When company leaders take the time to thoughtfully offer training and other professional development opportunities, people feel valued. It is human nature for people to be loyal to company leaders who are loyal to them.
The important lessons gleaned from these three stories is that Ridgeway, Jackson and Marshall earned the loyalty of the people under their command by enacting people-focused policies and reaching out to connect with their staff. It is no surprise that their soldiers felt supported, valued, and respected. In turn, they gave their commanding officers their loyal best.
It doesn’t just work in the military. Company leaders can earn the same loyalty and trust of their staff by adhering to these five leadership pillars:
As a leadership and management coach, Susan owns The River Birch Group where she transforms expert professionals into excellent, world-class leaders. Her practical viewpoint incorporates actual workplace challenges to assist her clients in building relationships and communicating effectively.
When not coaching, Susan is an adjunct instructor at UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz and author of Creating a Greater Whole: A Project Manager’s Guide to Becoming a Leader.
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