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Loyalty – There’s No Need to Fall on Your Sword!


Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo, a Roman general, senator and consul under the Emperor Nero, ‘a Patten’ of his day, was inexplicably ordered by Nero, to take his own life. Nero, the Roman Emperor, was jealous of Corbulo’s military success and feeling threatened both by his ability and military backing, ordered Corbulo to do the unthinkable except to someone known to be completely loyal. Nero ordered Corbulo to fall on his sword, literally. Corbulo followed the order and as his sword was about to strike the sanctity of loyalty personified, he uttered the word, “Axios,” ‘I am worthy; I am loyal.’

Almost a daily conversation I have with individuals involve the words, ‘I am loyal.’ These are noble words, sought after words, words that any of us, personally or professionally would wish to hear from those around us! Why? Because the utterance of those words ‘I am loyal’ says as much about the individual as perhaps it does about us, that is if they are made in relation to us…Our family, our relationship, our agency. And even if they are not made in relation to us, the person uttering the words does so believing we understand the significance of those words.

All relationships, personal and professional, are based on loyalty, defined as a, ‘faithfulness to a person, country, group or cause.’ The value of loyalty in relationships, is that it allows for ‘some’ degree of certainty in planning, crucial to the running of anything, but particularly an agency. (Arguably one of the key threats to the advertising world is the lack of loyalty.) So how does such ‘faithfulness’ manifest?

Loyalty is not something that typically emerges overnight, although it can develop quickly when individuals, groups or teams face great adversity as it is under the most extreme circumstances that true allegiance is revealed. That said, loyalty is something that usually takes time to evolve and is earned when individuals believe others are genuinely invested in them and seek to respond in kind.

Equally, Fealty in a work context is not something that appears without a belief that the boss, the team, the agency culture, that we are loyal to, has not given to us over and over. This giving can be in the form of developing our business savvy, financial support or recompense, in developing the way we think, in creating a ‘virtual family’ for us, so long do people spend at work… The key point, ‘we’ feel that the boss, the team and/or the agency has provided things we consider to be very valuable and meaningful to us with the net effect, we feel beholden, defined as ‘owing thanks or having a duty to someone in return for help or a service.’ And, we should feel this, to a point. Where that ‘point’ is depends on how we have benefited and, what we have given in return, the most valuable thing that we can give, our time.

So, what of the daily utterance I hear, ‘I am loyal?’

Firstly, it is a good thing to here but, there is a true difference between loyalty to the animate and to the inanimate. To a person, a boss, a team when compared to a brand, a culture, an agency. One exists whilst the other ‘exists’ to make money. One has given to your development for reasons that might include money but invariably has given for personal reasons, there’s and yours. The other is not typically interested beyond your ability to help make money!

Very often an individuals’ sense of loyalty is misplaced. It is not to a boss or team, which have long since left the agency, but to the agency, which will hire or fire them very largely based entirely on business numbers, with little thought about them or the impacts of sudden job loss for them. Anyone that believes this is not true will be fortunate in their careers if they do not experience the reality of losing a job. (Perhaps they haven’t taken enough risks?) Then again, this is the power of a culture, that an individual can feel so much continued loyalty.

Secondly, whilst no-one can question the value of the trait of loyalty, there is a clear difference between loyalty and blind-loyalty, ‘being loyal to a person, agency or cause despite the damage the person/agency/cause inflicts.’

Damage is a relative term and typically more one of opportunity cost. The damage is relative loss of opportunity for more rapid development, be that more money, responsibility, practical and intellectual development to name a few things. Loyalty is proffered with the feeling that what has been provided for the individual and their development requires in turn that individual should not work for another boss, or team and certainly not for another agency as they perceive this would be ungrateful or in the worst case, disloyal.

My belief is that loyalty is a great thing, to experience or to seek. I say this as it means we have had great people around us, that we feel have shown an interest in our development. We should repay this loyalty to individuals certainly and to the nebulous concept of the ‘agency’ as well. But, today we have to be the Chief Coach in the management of our own careers. If we’ve had a nurturing boss, team or culture, fantastic. If others are mapping out our development for us and, we are growing, then ‘we’ are fortunate indeed. But that said, past growth is great, but it is, past. We need to continue to develop. And, if we can no longer do this in our current role, we must seek it most certainly in the agency to which we are loyal first and then if necessary, to look beyond.

Reviewing market possibilities or simply comparing our current salary, benefits and opportunities can actually make us even more loyal as we have a renewed sense of how well we are being looked after. Although, reviewing market opportunities can also be a wake-up call as individuals do see real opportunity for more rapid advancement. Some might suggest, in simply asking about the broader market, that an individual is acting in a disloyal manner I suggest not if you give your current employer every opportunity to keep you growing whilst you keep working hard and focused and take the suggested steps below.

Initially, we should seek the counsel of those individuals that have always helped us, to give them the opportunity to reassure, to re-equip or to provide new challenges. We should where possible (and where we believe the agency has the ability to deliver) be open about how we hope to develop. This openness along with all our hard work, is the way to return loyalty. (sometimes it is impossible to be open.) Having done this, if we are still unable to continue to develop in our current role or place of work, then we should look for new career challenges with our heads held high and in the words of General Corbulo, but without the tragic consequences, we can to ourselves at least, utter, ‘axios’ or, ‘I am worthy.’