Discover more from Admired Leadership Field Notes
Why Overweighing Loyalty to People Can Lead to Horrific Decisions
Leaders sometimes make decisions they know are wrong. Even though their experience, values, and instincts confirm the decision is exceedingly bad, they go ahead and make it anyway.
They talk themselves into the idea that they are doing the right thing, all the while knowing they aren’t. They willfully commit to a decision that will likely blow up and potentially destroy their credibility. Why would leaders, even good ones, make such a choice?
That’s what happens when leaders overweigh loyalty to people when making a critical decision.
Loyalty is a virtuous value. Leaders who are loyal to those they lead display a commitment that builds trust. Knowing a leader is loyal creates a sense of security and reassurance. Team members and colleagues reciprocate that loyalty by protecting the leader from unfair criticisms and advocating for the ideas the leader believes in.
Over time, loyalty allows leaders and team members to reaffirm their mutual commitment in the face of bad or challenging times. Loyalty is a wonder drug for preserving strong relationships.
However, loyalty can undermine a decision critical to the health of the enterprise. When leaders factor in loyalty to people in their decision-making, they are often seduced to think differently about what is best for the team or organization. They justify a bad or poor decision by elevating the loyalty they have for a particular person affected by that choice.
Unfortunately, no matter how virtuous loyalty to others is, when it comes to major decisions, allowing loyalty a big seat at the table will likely produce a poor choice.
To make matters worse, everyone looking from the outside knows exactly what is going on. They conclude the leader is incapable of making a sound decision because of their attachment to a particular person. This conclusion undermines confidence in the leader and exposes them as biased and partial in a way that damages their long-term credibility.
The best leaders always elevate what is best for the organization, the clients or customers, and the team before they consider their relationship with any particular team member. While this is an exceedingly hard thing to do when loyalty is a primary value of a leader, as is often the case, it is what the job requires.
The next time you observe or read about a decision that seems so obviously bad that is unfathomable why a leader made such a choice, consider that loyalty to a person probably warped the decision-making process.
Do your best to commit more highly to what is best for the enterprise over what is best for any particular person when it comes to your own decision-making. Loyalty is a principled and noble value. But when it comes to making major decisions, loyalty will likely confound your thinking. Try not to let it.