Mind of the Manager

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The Simplest Way for Leaders to Gain Lasting Loyalty

The most important tool in a leader's toolkit is a moral compass.

This will be short because it’s simple. There are of course a number of ways for leaders to gain loyalty that involve variations around compensating your employees, running a sound ship and producing strong results for your organization. These are all naturally true, but I’d argue there’s one other method that’s simpler and more fundamental and will serve you well in good economic times and bad:

Model good behavior.

I can’t tell you how many leaders I’ve known, at different levels of different organizations, who were extremely talented but have seen loyalty needlessly erode for preventable reasons. They chose not to adhere to the rules they asked others to play by. They wasted money decorating offices as if they were anterooms in Versailles. They asked others to make sacrifices they weren’t willing to make themselves. Simply put, they weren’t modelling behavior others fully respected.

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“Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” It’s wickedly well-worn advice, but the odd thing is, after all these years, it still works awfully well. Small story: Just the other day I was talking to an airline pilot, a captain, a highly respected man with decades of experience. For years he’s been in the habit, before early-morning flights, of getting up well before everyone else (this would be around 3 a.m.) and picking up coffee and pastries for the entire flight crew. To say a new crew is surprised to see their captain, el jefe grande, doing this for them is, shall we say, an understatement. To say they remember it is also an understatement.

If you build a deep reservoir of hard-earned goodwill, then when it comes time to deliver the really tough news (layoffs, reorgs, pay cuts, pension cuts, no bonuses – take your pick), and you do it with straightforwardness and honesty, people may not like it but they’ll respect it.

Personal opinion: The most important tool in a leader’s toolkit is a moral compass. People have long memories and keen eyes, particularly where their own livelihoods are concerned. As a leader, you’re being studied all the time by many, many people.

If they sense your scruples vaguely resemble those of a timber rattler, when they finally get the chance they’ll undercut you.

If you’re a person they genuinely admire, they’ll follow you anywhere.

This article first appeared at Forbes.com.

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Victor Lipman recently retired from the corporate world after 25 years with one of America's largest life insurance companies. He writes about management from a psychological perspective.

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