25 August 2009

Don't Mistake Loyalty for Leadership

A common trait of founders, CEOs and in fact most executives, is the loyalty they command among their troops. During times of crisis (including most of the early years of a developing company, integration of mergers, etc), loyalty is a critical characteristic of the leadership team. But in order for a company to scale, leadership is much more important than blind faith alone. It's apparently quite difficult to separate the two. And clearly, the bonds born of loyalty are hard to overcome.

As companies mature and it becomes necessary for management decisions to distribute beyond a strong single central decision maker, loyalty alone is not sufficient to generate good decisions. So CEOs need to steel themselves to objectively view their teams as either capable or not to operate on their own. Coloring (or perhaps blinding) the decision of who sits in these important leadership seats is a mistake too often made.


  1. Anonymous9:39 AM

    How should a mid-level manager work within the confines of an established organization, to help the leaders take the blinders off? Most organizations that have "Blind Faith" leaders aren't open to even the idea that there is a problem.

    When an organization is changing or has changed, how can leadership recognize the fact that loyal management is nothing close to what a new hire might look like? (E.G. a widget sales organization transitioning to consulting, all management is used to is selling widgets and has no experience or understanding of consulting)

  2. Unfortunately, your experience is more the rule than the exception in the corporate world. Many leaders become that through loyalty to their immediate superiors - that relationship often does more bad than good for the company. The way that I have found to open people's eyes to this issue is to systematically (and patiently) identify the critical issues that are not being addressed and compare the current results with a more objective view's potential results. Then, as a good entrepreneur, commit yourself to obtaining those results with the backing of senior management. If you can be successful, then others will begin to listen. But it's a risk - as most entrepreneurial initiatives are, and not for the faint of heart.

    Let me know what you end up doing.