Loyalty-Based Leadership

6 Strategies to Develop a Loyal Workforce

When we ask managers how they know that certain employees are not loyal to them, we are sometimes intrigued–and dismayed–with their definition of loyalty.

For some managers, if an employee questions what the manager is doing or trying to accomplish, the manager sees that questioning as obvious evidence of a lack of loyalty. For other managers, if the employee speaks the truth, and the truth is not what the manager cares to promote throughout the organization, the manager perceives that honest communication as showing a lack of loyalty. In another instance, a manager is actually asking employees to lie. The employees who would not lie were described as not being team players. Other managers try to instill fear or use threats in their attempts to breed a loyal workforce. In still another instance, a manager was perplexed that the employee was not loyal because the employee had been given “gifts” along with a promotion and a “big” raise.


From the other side, we encountered employees who stated that their managers told them that associating with certain individuals or departments in the organization was showing a lack of loyalty to their own manager.

In each of these instances, we know one thing for certain. Asking employees to demonstrate loyalty through actions that are wrong or clearly inappropriate will not build loyalty. Instead, it is likely to erode the relationship between the manager and the employee.

If we go back to our basic definition of leadership (“leaders are those who people willingly follow”), then using the types of strategies we mentioned results in a leadership foundation built on quicksand. As the outside pressures increase, these managers find their leadership foundation crumbling…and washing out to sea.

If these strategies are ineffective, what will work to develop employees who become increasingly loyal to their leader? We must begin by defining loyalty. According to Webster’s Dictionary, loyalty means “unswerving in allegiance; faithful to a cause, ideal, person, or custom.” The United States Marines define loyalty as “the love of the Corps at all costs.”

Ultimately, true loyalty from an employee comes when the manager is able to build a relationship with the employee based upon deep trust. This means that a manager may perceive that he or she has loyalty, but without the employee feeling a bond of trust, the two of them will never have true loyalty.

We have seen great leaders utilize these following six strategies to develop a loyal workforce:

  1. Clarify your values. As a manager, what do you value? Do you value honesty? Or, do you prefer employees who will be deceptive or dishonest if that is what it takes to make you look good in the eyes of others? When managers endorse an employee’s loyalty over true honesty, it is obvious that the manager is operating on a self-centered value system. This value system is geared to the individual’s success rather than to the best for the employees in the organization.
  2. Trust your people. When managers do not trust their subordinates, they send out all sorts of signals. Not passing along significant responsibilities and withholding important information from employees are two signals that convey a lack of confidence in and commitment to your employees. When this occurs, employees perceive that they are not meaningful to the success of the department. They sense that their manager is not to be trusted. Without trust, there can be no true loyalty.
  3. Encourage people to question or challenge you. When employees care enough to ask managers tough questions, it provides managers with an opportunity to provide honest feedback. Ask employees questions. Ask them about their understanding of the topic being discussed. For example, a manager might ask an employee, “What happens if we do change? And, what will happen if we do not change?” Managers who dislike being challenged are managers who lack confidence in their ability to do the job. Managers who enjoy challenges from employees recognize that working through the difficulties and questions presents opportunities to develop employees who are even more loyal than employees who never question anything.
  4. Care about the employee first as an individual, then as an employee. Great leaders know that when they care about employees as people first, then as employees, many positive things happen. One of them is a loyal workforce. A manager sent an employee home who was not feeling well on a day when the entire office was swamped with projects and deadlines. The employee did not want to place a heavier burden on the other remaining employees by going home. But the manager stated, “The most important thing is your health. We can figure out how to accomplish everything else.” This sent out a clear message that the individual was more important than the department’s immediate workload.
  5. Value the employee as a “gift” rather than as a “commodity.” When an employee knows that he or she is really valued, and that you believe the employee makes a positive difference, you will find stronger bonds of loyalty. In contrast, if employees sense that you only care that a warm body fills a particular position, that it does not matter who does the work, they will feel like a commodity. Leaders who value each employee and who also recognize each one as contributing a unique “gift” evoke stronger bonds of loyalty from employees.
  6. Be honest. Being honest builds the trust level between manager and employee, especially when it costs the manager something to be honest. For example, a manager tells the team that the company is talking about a pending layoff due to lack of business. Having the courage to deliver this unwelcome news demonstrates an attitude of genuine caring. “I care enough about you to be honest and to give you what information I currently have regarding company decisions.” Managers who are consistently honest with employees, even when it costs them something to be honest, will build a team of loyal employees.

Being a manager today is tougher than ever before. Today’s managers are faced with challenges unheard of fifty years ago. To doubt the loyalty of those you supervise doesn’t need to be added to your list of pressures.

Implement these six strategies to build a loyal team. And then, as you lead, your team will be there with you, willingly offering their support and their contributions–and their loyalty.

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