Loyalty is generally a good thing…a very good thing; but it can sometimes become a bad thing… a very bad thing that can hurt the leader, his/her team and the group, church or organization.

Loyalty has its limits

Many of us will remember the comment from Donald Trump to James Comey, “ I expect. loyalty.” This is exactly where the problem can begin; when loyalty to an individual leader supersedes or is in violation of loyalty to the organization’s purpose, vision, values and strategic initiatives.

When loyalty to the leader collides with loyalty to the organization we have a problem which needs to be addressed.  In his excellent book,  The Courageous Follower – Standing up to and up for our leaders, Ira Chaleff offers this valuable insight:

“Courageous followers value organizational harmony and their relationship with the leader, but not at the expense of the common purpose and their integrity. A central dichotomy of courageous followership is the need to energetically perform two opposite roles: implementer and challenger of the leader’s ideas.”

In order for a group to work well together there has to be a fine delineation between loyalty to the leader and loyalty to the organization. When a leader drifts away from the stated organizational purpose, values, vision and strategic initiatives, then team members need to feel safe in speaking out and challenging that leader; standing up to him/her and not being blindly loyal to them. Loyalty has it limits.

Amy Edmondson, an organizational behavioral scientist at Harvard, coined the phrase  “Psychological Safety” which is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. Speaking up may sound admirable, but if you don’t feel psychologically safe, you’ll keep your concerns and ideas to yourself, thereby robbing the team (and organization) of creative ideas and, additionally, not be protecting it from serious mistakes.  Developing a corporate culture where people feel comfortable raising concerns without  worrying if they will be fired for being honest involves risks and demands hard work.

As team members, we all need to be acutely aware of unquestioning loyalty to questionable decisions by overly demanding, narcissistic, authoritative leaders. Leadership in business, government and the church are unfortunately populated with leaders who are overly demanding, dictatorial and even narcissistic.

In a very disturbing book I recently finished,  When Narcissism Comes to Church.  I read this:

“The long painful history of the Church is the history of people ever and again tempted to choose power over love, control over the cross, being a leader over being led. Much Christian leadership is exercised by people who do not know how to develop healthy, intimate relationships and have opted for power and control instead. The frightening reality of narcissism is that it often presents itself in  a compelling package. Narcissistic traits were often presented as strengths.”

Suffice it to say that if you tend to be narcissistic in your leadership style, or work with one who is, it must be addressed sooner rather than later. Somebody or somebodies need to stand up to such a leader putting blind and unthinking “Loyalty” aside and instead speak truth to power. I share from painful experience on this. A great question for every leader to ask those he/she leads is:  “How do you experience me?” Hopefully the truth will come out.

By all means, be loyal  and supportive of your leader unless or until  that leader crosses lines which merits your challenging him/her, and doing it with truth and love (Ephesians 4:15).

We need lots of wisdom as to when this is called for. We need to know the difference between biblical convictions and personal preferences when taking issue with a leader. By His grace, may we all be part of  a team at work and at church where there is “psychological safety” so that we can be honest and open with each other. It takes a lot of hard work and courage, but it’s well worth the effort.