Loyalty: Where do you draw the line?" The Denver Business Journal -- April 3-9, 1998
The subject first came to mind watching Nixon's staffers grapple with what to do. Years later, I declined a client's request to take a gig for which I knew I wasn't the right
man. "What isn't there any loyalty in this town?" she replied. I've thought often about what I said back to her ever since....
What is loyalty, anyway? What does it require? What are its limits? Where is the line between loyalty and disloyalty; what causes or justifies one to cross it? What level of loyalty does one owe the company or boss, particularly when asked to behave unethically? "All the president's (wo)men" face these questions now in the Washington soap, "Days of Our Lies." Cigarette executives will learn the price of company loyalty if their butts are hauled into criminal court.
The world's biggest health care firm fights widespread Medicare fraud charges. How "loyal" will its employees be before a grand jury? Such sagas can teach much. From childhood, we are taught to venerate loyalty and not "snitch" on anybody. For to be loyal is somehow to be noble. But it's not that simple. Unless blind, loyalty is inherently a mutual responsibility agreement sealed with trust. Parties are loyal to each other in return for some benefit--happiness, love, hard work, security, business advantage. As a quid pro quo, there are times loyalty fades to nothingness. No love from your family, no loyalty. No caring from your company, no loyalty. The company without loyalty to its customers receives none in return. As the American biographer, James Parton, wrote, "Fidelity is seven-tenths of business success."
Loyalty is relative in terms of point-of-view and eventualities. It is a function of the situation and time. A traitor is only so to her compatriots. Her collaorators regard her heroic. The outcome of events often decides whether one is judged loyal or scorned as treacherous. Benedict Arnold would have quite the opposite historical reputation had the American Revolution failed.
The concept of loyalty is further compounded by the wide differences in degree of commitment: how tenacious the loyal when called to defend the object of loyalty. This requirement of vindication points up loyalty's most ethereal side when we see it do battle with conscience and personal gain.
Would you lie to keep your boss out of jail? A "small" lie to get your boss's job? Would you lie to keep your child out of jail?
"Fidelity is the sister of justice," said the Roman poet, Horace. While closely related, the latter is properly blind. Loyalty, however, ought be constantly vigilant to incursions of injustice and unethical behavior. It is the ethics of our choices, and the ends we go to uphold them, that imparts loyalty its virtue.
We are loyal to many things at once - family, friends, our boss, and our ethics. We must continually weigh one against the others. They weigh differently. Despite their chronic disparagement, the best lawyers, for example, simultaneously balance loyalty to the law, their client, their firm and their own ethics. They must constantly monitor their loyalties and question their validity. We all should do likewise. Loyalty is a virtue when placed wisely and defended courageously. One may be fairly judged by his loyalties, for they will reveal his principles. Actors often use "the magic If..." to envision their character in an imagined situation. They thus portray their roles with more integrity. Astute businesses do contingency planning to "what if?" what to do in a crisis; so do astute people. Perhaps some premeditation bout what you would do if caught between a rock and a hard place might help your decision-making, should you ever find yourself in a "loyalty bind."It matters less which "Willy" we believe in the current Beltway morality play. It matters more the lessons we draw from it.
We know what happened to Nixon's loyalists with their tragic tenet, "My President, right or wrong." We'll see what happens to Clinton's.
Oh, I forever lost that client I turned down. My response to her? "Loyalty doesn't require the loyal to go against what they believe is right." Perhaps not the best retort, but it's what came to me at the time. What would you have said? Denver Post, July 21, 1998: Stressing loyalty. And an upsurge of stress of all kinds is sapping workers' loyalty to their employers, a new national survey found. "The level of stress among the workforce is skyrocketing," said David Stum, president of Aon Consulting's Loyalty Institute, of Ann Arbor, Mich. "What's more, the evidence points to a significant correlation between job stress and loyalty decline. Workers who suffer stress are 'significantly less committed' than other employees to their companies," Stum said.