Loyalty: why you should give a flying duck

Ask anyone who in a position of leadership what they value most in a team member and invariably the word “loyalty” will arise.

Other attitudes and skills of course are required in any role, but if a staff member has all the skills but no loyalty and leaves you at a critical moment, what use are they? Or, if you have built a great sporting team and an integral person in your plan decides not to turn up or loses focus, what happens to the rest of the team?

One of the corniest series of movies in the 1990s was The Mighty Ducks franchise – corny, but as is always the way with American movies, peppered with a number of life’s truisms. Most people will begrudgingly admit that they know the next line to these statements: “When the wind blows hard and the sky is black” or “just when you think they are about to break apart” and “when everyone says it cant be done”… Ducks Fly Together!

So, why do ducks fly together and how does this help us?

Ducks and geese are predominantly migratory birds and to travel thousands of miles to get to their destination, they need to work together if they are all to arrive in one place. The famous “V” formation is now known to offer the most efficient way for birds to fly, with lead birds taking the bulk of the wind drag, and the others taking it a little easier in their wake. Lead birds change on a regular basis so as to share the load with older experienced birds calling the shots on navigation.

Can you imagine what would happen if a bunch of them decided they had had enough of the group and wanted to do it alone? Quite apart from the individuals probably dropping from the sky exhausted, the rest of the flock would also suffer and eventually, no more ducks.

Now consider the working unit.

We all know the saying that a champion team will always beat a team of champions, but why? Loyalty.

If you know that you can rely on your fellow team member (wing person) no matter what, then generally your team will fare better than a bunch of individuals attempting their own thing. I have had the pleasure and honour of working with many great teams over the years and the key ingredient in my mind is the sense of loyalty and commitment that they make, not just to me, but to their shared purpose, to their staff and each other.

Common goals and challenges work well to unite people and as a manager it is an amazing experience to watch a group of committed people face these together, even when they maybe don’t get along that well personally. Opening a hotel, facing a challenging business environment or hostile owners or maybe even dealing with personal crises….teams with a strong sense of loyalty will come through these far stronger than just a team of high performers alone.

Loyalty is a sometimes-misunderstood attribute where it is confused with blind obedience, but this is not what delivers great results. Loyalty means picking up the slack when one member is struggling; it means picking up the phone or walking to see someone to resolve issues rather than resorting to emails; it means being prepared to take one for the team.

So how do we engender loyalty? A good question!

  • Lead by example. A duck that won’t fly lead won’t get support.
  • Acknowledge & appreciate. Loyalty is not guaranteed and if there is no acknowledgement then loyalty may be shortlived.
  • Both encourage and challenge. I was involved in a management review once where we had a lot of good things come out of our sessions however at the end of the weekend, the facilitator did not seek any written commitment. The result? Promises made disappeared very quickly and we were back to square one. The next time we engaged a different facilitator who was prepared to challenge everyone to commit and show loyalty to the promise. It worked a heck of a lot better because participants were challenged as to whether their loyalty was real or just a show and they had to sign that they had indeed agreed.  They then continued to encourage each other to commit.
  • Recognise when it’s time to stop. I have always told my staff that I expect them to work hard and give 100% plus, HOWEVER, to recognise that at end of the day, it is only a job, and sometimes other things are more important. Of course we want dedicated and committed staff and sometimes this means expecting above and beyond the call of duty or loyalty, but we also need to recognise that sometimes our team cannot give it due to personal stresses. This is OK…..and this is where the lead duck takes over.

At the end of the day, we do manage people, not ducks, but like ducks, loyalty is best demonstrated by a commitment to a common good and by good leaders who are prepared to pick up the slack and guide when needed. Quack.

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