The leaders that I found myself loyal to in my life have all had a certain vulnerability about them. In other words, they didn’t try to pretend to be all-knowing or all-powerful. These leaders were honest about their strengths and their short comings. They were honest with themselves and they were honest with me….even if being honest was painful. These leaders not only immediately took ownership of their mistakes, but they took ownership of my mistakes. These leaders took a risk – they resolved to be vulnerable by trusting me for the first time. These leaders gave me an opportunity to prove myself and therefore, I felt empowered and valued. My confidence in these leaders grew as a byproduct of their trust.
The seeds of loyalty were planted.
Rebecca Canate, Mission 6 Zero’s Chief Human Performance Psychologist, explains that “in our culture, vulnerability is associated with a negative connotation.” We tend to associate vulnerability with weakness, indecision, and shame. We neglect the fact that vulnerability is the catalyst for connection, authenticity, bonding, and love. When we remove the walls we place around ourselves and expose our hearts, we find ourselves interesting, relatable, and connected with those around us. Vulnerability is not weakness; rather, vulnerability is true courage.
Each of us has moments of vulnerability in life. We each have a choice on how we handle those moments. We can let those moments embarrass us or shame us, we can let these moments anger or frustrate us, or we can choose to turn them into strength. In order to transform vulnerability into strength, you must make a choice to take ownership of your vulnerability and live in the moment. Owning up to your vulnerability is terrifying not only because of your ego, but also because of the uncertain response of those around you. It takes courage to be vulnerable, but ultimately taking ownership of your vulnerability will empower you to connect with and inspire loyalty from those around you.
As graduation from the United States Military at West Point was approaching, a common question was asked rather frequently, “What is the one thing you would tell our cadets when they show up to their unit for the first time?” Almost universally, the person that receives the question pauses for a moment as though they are actually pondering the question, only to immediately answer, “Trust your NCOs.”
Your NCOs are your Non-Commissioned Officers, the “backbone” of the Army. These individuals have considerable more time in the Army than your average officer and are usually battle-hardened subject matter experts in their field. I followed this piece of advice up until the first day that I reported to my Company Commander as a recent graduate of the United States Army Special Forces Qualification Course.
I reported to my Company Commander and was briefed on his expectations. I listened attentively and did not ask any questions. As I prepared to exit his office, the commander said, “one last thing, if I were to give you one piece of advice to follow, it’s this….. don’t trust your NCOs.” I half smiled at him as I cocked my head, questioning whether I heard him correctly, or if it was a joke. The commander looked dead serious. I saluted him and walked out of the office. I left his office thinking, “I can’t believe that my commander just told me to not trust my NCOs.” The message of “trusting your NCOs” has been driven so deeply in my psyche, I had a difficult time processing the guidance. I thought about the message for several months. Eventually, I gathered the courage to ask the commander what he meant by the statement.
My question was answered with a question, “Why would you blindly trust some guy you’ve never met before just because he has three stripes on his collar? You don’t know who this guy is from Adam and you are going to trust him because of his rank? Don’t trust anyone until they have earned your trust.”
“Your NCOs have to earn your trust…. Just as you have to earn theirs. I don’t want you to trust a person because he has the title ‘Sergeant’ in front of his name. I want you to trust Sergeant John Smith because you know John as a person and you believe in him… and yes, he happens to be an NCO also. Once you get to truly know the person, ranks don’t matter. The only thing that does matter is trust and loyalty. As you get to know your NCOs, if one of them doesn’t deserve your loyalty, get rid of him.”
I internalized this message as one of my favorite lessons learned in the Army.
The purpose of listening is twofold; first to connect with people, and second to learn. During my military experiences, a sure sign of imminent danger was when you heard the phrase “the commander is not listening to us.” In reality this means that the soldiers told the commander what they wanted, but the commander is just not doing what they want him to do.
The leaders that I have been the most loyal to approached listening in a different way. These leaders would stop whatever they were doing, no matter how important, and give me their undivided attention. These leaders would patiently listen, no matter how long, to my opinion. After I finished talking, the commander would simply agree or disagree with me, without much explanation. 99% of the time, I would walk away satisfied.
It seems so counterintuitive, but as Philip Stanhope coined, “many a man would rather you heard his story than grant his request.” I realized that this statement is true. As long as I felt that my voice was being heard and the commander truly listened to me, I didn’t really care which direction we would go. I just wanted to feel listened to, valued, and appreciated.
A recent survey of HR professionals and hiring managers conducted by CareerBuilder.com stated that "approximately 25% of employees do not feel loyal to their current employer. Around 20% say they are likely to leave their current position to change jobs within a year."
The top two reasons for disloyalty were:
1. "I don't feel my employer values me" (61%)
2. "My efforts are not recognized or appreciated" (52%)