How Important Is Loyalty?

Here’s a question I’ve wrestled with for years: When it comes to success, is loyalty a good thing or a bad thing?

There are those who advocate a “me-first” approach. Loyalty, they argue, is a sentimental attachment that winners cannot afford. When people are no longer useful to you, get rid of them.

Success is determined in no small part by the quality of the people who surround you. I’ve argued in past ETR essays that when it comes to the key people in your career, good is not good enough. But does that mean you should dump a loyal employee or vendor the moment you find someone better?

In a word, no.

When you mistreat a longtime supporter, you create a lifelong enemy. Populate your world with enemies, and you assure yourself (and your career) an untimely death. More to the point, loyalty is a two-way street. Develop a reputation for “using” people, and you will find yourself used when you least expect it.

So how do you avoid the terrible choice of keeping someone who’s been with you for years or bringing in someone “better”?

The best thing you can do — by far — is to hire (and partner with) only great people to begin with.

You must also provide your key people with the information, technology, and direction they need to be excellent.

Finally, recognize that loyalty doesn’t mean you must do what others think you should do for them. Someone might expect to be your business manager someday. But that doesn’t mean you have to put him in that position.

Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Don’t suggest benefits you can’t provide. Hire and partner with excellent people. Teach them. Listen to them.

Do that and you will help your loyal employees grow. They will recognize the value you’ve given them and be grateful to you for it. If something out of your control happens and you have to let them go, they will be better able to get a good job because of what they’ve learned from you.

[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]