Death of company loyalty: How to replace company loyalty with leader loyalty
Company Loyalty is Dead
Company loyalty is dead. The days of employees working 20 years with one company are gone. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that adults work an average of 5 years with one company before moving on. The traditional style of top-down leadership is no longer feasible to motivate employees. Leaders cannot simply dictate orders and hope employees will remain with the company for the retirement package. With the advent of challenges such as virtual teams and a greater focus on diversity in the workplace, successful leaders must build stronger relationships with their followers.
Company loyalty emerged from the relationships employees built. Instead of company loyalty, followers commit themselves to specific leaders. Leaders who earn this loyalty will have the highest producing teams. Leadership study almost totally ignores the relationship followers have with leaders, focusing only on the leader’s style. But to have a genuine conversation about leadership, we must address both sides of the leader-follower relationship. Leaders must have certain traits for them to be truly effective when it comes to leading followers. This is even truer when factoring in the global business community and the vast array of cultures it brings to the table. Studies show that followers are more motivated to go “above and beyond” if they have a positive perception of the leader.
The perception of the leader is built, in part, by the relationship between the leader and the follower. Leaders must follow three fundamental principles to maximize the leader-follower relationship: competence, caring, and trust. So, let’s first look at the four types of leader-follower relationships. Then we will discuss three fundamental principles. And lastly, we will discuss how the leader supports the role the follower plays in cementing the relationship.
Without a doubt, the leader-follower relationship is essential to success. The key deciding factor is the follower’s perception of the leader. Does he know what he is doing? Does he care about me? Does he trust me? In today’s social media world, perception is the reality. We see leaders and followers alike instantly condemned due to a perceived indiscretion. Many times, even after the situation is cleared up, social media does not forget. Leaders must work hard to build positive perception, and once attained, they must guard it through continued diligence.
According to a study conducted in 2006, made up of 600 government employees on a Caribbean Island, there are four basic types of leader-follower relationships: Authority-based, Collaborative, Partnership, and Engaged. Authority-based relationships are by default of taking the job. A new employee gains a supervisor. These relationships tend to build enough strength to obtain the minimum amount of work to avoid termination. These relationships do not garner loyalty, nor do they motivate followers to go above and beyond. If you disagree, look at Darth Vader, the Dark Lord of the Sith from the Star Wars movie saga. None of his employees went above and beyond for him; they wanted to do enough to survive, literally! For these reasons, we will focus on the remaining three relationships.
In a collaborative relationship, the leader and follower work together to accomplish the organization’s goals. Leaders and followers enjoy open communication with each other. The leader must have high competence in the required work, and both leaders and followers must have mutual trust, respect, and loyalty. As respect and trust increases, partnership forms. In a partnership relationship, the follower perceives equality with the leader. The leader values the follower’s opinions and allows for more independence in completing tasks. Additionally, both followers and leaders openly acknowledge they need each other to succeed.
The highest form of relationship is the engaged relationship. In this relationship, followers share information with the leader regularly. Every person takes the initiative to correct and discuss issues, and everyone is highly committed. It is at this level that the leader provides clear-cut expectations, the followers contribute, and followers have opportunities for advancement and growth. So, what fundamental principles must a leader practice to reach the highest engaged relationship level? Leaders demonstrate competence, care for the follower, and implicit trust.
The first fundamental principle leaders must demonstrate to move the relationship to a higher level is competency. Competency can be defined as a combination of implicit and explicit knowledge, behavior, skills, and abilities. The leader must be authentic, they must be able to read and understand their follower’s emotions, and they must engage in the work with them. Studies have shown the competency of the leader directly impacts the engagement, performance, and effectiveness of the followers. A study conducted in 2016 by Tongji University in Shanghai, China, discovered there was a direct correlation between the leader’s perceived competence level and increased or decreased employee engagement. The study concluded that the leader’s authenticity improved the follower’s task performance and organizational citizenship behavior (OCB), meaning they were excellent and cordial employees.
Followers perceive leaders with high emotional competence as trustworthy. Leaders who engaged in the work with followers saw an increase in follower’s production and OCB. This finding was universal across cultures. Even more noteworthy, the leader’s perceived competence in job procedures weighted more heavily in times of crisis or emergency. The employees gathered around the leaders with the highest perceived job competency when there was an emergency or when critical tasks were to be required. Followers must view leaders as emotionally and professionally competent to bring the group to the engaged participation level.
The second fundamental principle the leader must demonstrate to improve the leader-follower relationship is to care for the employee. Theodore Roosevelt pointed out, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” Caring is more than just an exhibition of emotional competence. Caring is giving personalized attention to followers. Additionally, the leader must be willing to go the extra mile for the followers, especially if the leader expects the same from them. This gives credence to Servant leadership and Transformational leadership theories.
Before employees become dedicated to the company cause, they first must be devoted to the leader. Another study revealed ten characteristics that a servant leader must have to show they care for the follower. I will discuss the five I see as most relevant to this conversation. First is the leader’s ability to listen. By listening, the leader can gain both professional and personal insights into the followers’ lives. This enables the leader to plan for future events, show greater empathy, and know how to better relate to each follower.
Second is the leader’s ability to show compassion. Empathy shows followers that you understand and wish the best for them. More importantly, it helps the leader assume the best of each follower. The third is the leader’s ability to heal. The ability to heal wounds is essential. The most influential leaders can discover wounds and injuries and provide paths to healing, thus making each follower feel whole and complete. Fourth is the leader’s ability to be aware of personal weaknesses and work to strengthen them. As the leader admits shortcomings to followers, they see the leader as more “real” and human and trustworthy.
The fifth is the leader’s commitment to the follower’s growth. The leader recognizes the follower’s worth outside of the office. The leader fosters a workplace that encourages professional and personal growth by making funds available for higher education studies, professional development opportunities, and encouraging involvement in work decisions, to name a few. As the leader demonstrates these five characteristics, they will show not only that they care, but how much they care. Caring will move the employees closer to the engaged relationship we are seeking.
The last of the three fundamental principles that leaders must demonstrate to move the relationship to a higher level is trust. Previously, employees had trust in the company. That trust created company loyalty. Leaders must fill the void left by the company. Trust is even more critical in today’s virtual workplace. It is easier to build confidence in a face to face environment because we can see the emotions on the faces of those with whom we interact. In a virtual environment, this is not always the case.
To increase trust, leaders should avoid being inaccessible and distanced from their followers. Ann-Marie Nienaber, a researcher with Coventry University in the United Kingdom, defined trust as a willingness to be vulnerable to another’s actions with the expectation the other party will act in a mutually acceptable manner. The keyword here is vulnerable. They can demonstrate vulnerability in two ways. First, leaders show vulnerability by delegating and relying on the followers to complete assigned tasks. Second, leaders should show active, disclosure-based, vulnerability by sharing important personal and strategic information with their followers. By delegating and sharing personal and strategic information, leaders increase trust with followers.
For too long, leadership discussions have excluded the responsibility followers have and how leaders can support followers in cementing the leader-follower relationship. For the leader and follower to reach the engaged relationship, leaders must encourage and support specific behaviors and actions from the followers. Trust must go both ways. The followers must also gain the trust of the leader; otherwise, they will not reach the engaged relationship status. Leaders can encourage followers to build trust with the leader by being open to personal contact and by fulfilling assignments promptly. They should strive to help followers create an emotional connection with the leader by seeking regular individual meetings with the leader. Both parties must be engaged in trust-building for the process to work and trust increase.
Followers must be encouraged to take a more active role in achieving the common goals they and the leader have. In taking those more active roles, they support the leader in reaching the goals. Followers must be allowed to be courageous and constructively challenge the leader if threats arise to the common goals or team integrity. They must also be encouraged to champion change to improve a process, more quickly move the group towards its goals, or to avoid the risk of potential harm. Finally, followers must be allowed to take moral stands to prevent abuses of ethics and laws. In a nutshell, followers must get the job done, and leaders must allow them the chance to do so. As the followers work to increase trust with the leader, the relationship will progress through the tiers at an ever-faster pace, and both the leader and follower will reap the personal and professional rewards.
Leader Loyalty is Alive
In today’s global business environment, leaders must focus on the impact their leadership has on followers. With the advent of virtual teams and a greater focus on diversity in the workplace, leaders need to follow specific principles to enable them to manage the leader-follower relationship and maximize the returns on that relationship. For too long, leadership study almost totally ignored the relationship followers have with leaders. But to have a genuine conversation about leadership, we must address both sides of the leader-follower relationship.
Because company loyalty is dead, leaders must elicit loyalty from the followers. In this conversation, we explored the value of the three types of leader-follower relationships. We discussed three critical principles the leader must have to move the relationship to higher levels of positive perception. And lastly, we discussed how the leader supports the role the follower plays in cementing the relationship. As the leader strives to be competent in the workplace, care for the employee, and work with the follower to build trust, the leader-follower relationship will strengthen until it reaches the engaged relationship stage.
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