Loyalty. Some wield the word like a sword to cut into those they feel betrayed by. Others demand it without any thought as to how they might earn it first. But truly understanding loyalty is, and always has been, necessary for survival.
It was only through loyalty and trust that early humans were able to work together to hunt and gather food, build shelter and generally claw their way out of the animal kingdom. It is how our species developed into the dominating force we are today.
But surely it can’t all be good. Perhaps there are times when loyalty can be dangerous. If your best friend jumped off a bridge would you, out of loyalty? I would hope not but how do you make that decision?
How do you know when to be loyal and when it’s in your best interests not to be? Or Loyalty – How to Earn It and When to Let It Go.
Let’s break it all down and see.
Firstly what is loyalty really?
Our good friend Google tells us that Loyalty is defined as ‘a strong feeling of support or allegiance’. As a definition, it is short, precise and utterly useless.
In my opinion, to really dive into loyalty and to give us the intellectual skills to question it, I believe that we need to understand how it is created, and associate a measurement system to it.
The beginnings of loyalty
Let me give you an analogy to help us all understand it a little better.
Consider for a moment two boats coming together in open water, much like any two complete strangers passing in the street. Even though they may engage each other, there is nothing to keep them from simply drifting apart, never to meet again.
Let’s suppose for a moment these boats do engage each other for whatever reason, and one sailor throws a rope over the bow of the other boat. They have now formed an attachment built on trust. Either boat could pull away and break the rope, but neither would be significantly damaged, because their connection was just that single rope.
To understand this in the real world, I had an occasion where an employer demanded my complete loyalty on day one of my employment with them. While I was thankful for their employment, they had yet to invest even a single day in me and were making demands on my future. They had offered me employment and I had turned up to give them my best, however, we had only thrown a single rope across the bow of our two ships.
Developing the bonds loyalty
Getting back to our two ships drifting in the tidal wilderness of the open ocean. We captains of these mighty vessels have decided that it is in our best individual interests to stay together, perhaps to weather a storm or for medical reasons. We now start to throw many ropes across the bows to bind us together, like a needle and thread binding two pieces of fabric.
We enjoy fruits of our new union. We exchange ideas and information, trade goods and services and share our successes and failures together. Our loyalty to each other is getting stronger with each new rope that has is thrown across the bow.
Consider this stage like a couple building a life together. At the start of their union, it is only time and material possessions they share. However, as their relationship develops, they may have children, shared many experiences, lived together and invested completely in each other’s future. They may have even forgotten how to sail the waters alone, feeling that they may never need to again.
What happens if we break loyalty?
As we have discussed, breaking away early with no rope or only a single rope to bind us, will have minimal impact.
However, breaking away at the later point, now that we have invested heavily, could be disastrous as we have come to depend on each other. Pulling away now would cause major damage to both ships and potentially all they have built together.
Liken this stage of loyalty to a couple together for many years, torn apart by separation or divorce. Everything they have built together, every rope they had thrown across each other’s bow severed at once, potentially causing major emotional damage to at least one but likely both parties.
Does that mean we are loyal forever?
Not always. If one ship were to develop a leak it would make no sense for both vessels to sink. Our loyalty is served by trying to offer assistance first, trying to limit the damage second and then finally, if there are no other options, cutting all ties.
It may be in the best interests of the sinking ship to concentrate on its own situation, unencumbered, without fear of damaging its partner further. It can focus on rectifying its own damage before rejoining the union.
So what does all this ship talk mean for the real world?
It means loyalty is important for supporting each other. It gives us the ability to support others and have them support us. Whether personally, or in the business world the results of loyal relationships are often bigger than the sum of both halves.
However, we can not forget our own wellbeing in the equation. If both sides aren’t equally balanced, then the demands of one and un-met support of the other, could cause major damage in the medium to long term.
Last word on loyalty
If you have a rope or two thrown across your bow, consider your own situation. Make sure both parties are invested in the partnership. Make sure both ships are buoyant and capable of handling the open ocean. Make sure your loyalties are being returned.
If your loyalties are not in order it may be time to talk it through or take the action required.
May your ships be forever tethered!