On Loyalty, Cleverness, and Managerial Success!

A client I had been coaching for the past year recently became a manager. As a first-level manager she wanted to make sure that she started with the right foot forward and that she would be a good manager and a good leader to her team, both up and down. So, I discussed with her how she could prepare a 100-Day plan that outlined her leadership initiatives in the coming year to show the difference she would make in her new role.

One of the questions she asked me was about the composition of her team reporting to her as its manager and their informal roles. Her team was made of 10 professionals with varying degree of experience and skills in the area of her responsibility. I asked her to prepare a chart of her team members’ attributes, including each person’s rating in the latest Employee Performance Review (EPR). Their previous manager(s) had worked on these EPRs. One column in that chart she prepared was about their personal attributes. These attributes included, among others, loyalty and trust. This attribute merely explored if that particular member would be loyal to her as a leader and how much she could trust that member to come through in a clutch. Of course, much of that knowledge stemmed from her relationships with those team members while she was still a Lead, not their manager. Some of the entries for her team members were for their performance with ratings such as Exceptional (highest rating) to Core (average).

Armed with this information she wanted my guidance in selecting her second-in command that would be her proxy in case she needed to be away or were not available. I always tell my clients that one of the important duties of any manager (up to and including the CEO) is to always have a second in command to show that you are prepared for any eventuality (including moving up in a hurry). I cannot tell you how many times managers at all levels lost their opportunities for a promotion because they had not anointed their heir, right from the get-go!

So, as we were going through the list of her team members she asked me the question: Whom should I choose to be my proxy and second-in-command? Should that person be the best performer or should that person be the best relationship builder? My answer surprised her: I told her that for a manager what matters most is team members working together without undermining their manager or each other. I also reminded her to be aware that An ounce of loyalty was worth more than a pound of cleverness! So, I suggested her to choose a person who was loyal to her and to the team and was reasonably astute at doing things that needed to be done, without being too clever!

As a manager myself in the corporate world for many years I found that nothing undermined you more than someone within your team being disloyal to you or to the team’s mission. “Clever” team members develop their own agendas, often dissociating with the rest of the team and doing whatever it takes to marshal that agenda, even going around you or “skip-leveling” you! If this is done as a subterfuge, which it often is, it poisons that team environment and creates an atmosphere of suspicion and doubt.

Don’t misunderstand: I am not suggesting blind loyalty to the team and to its leader. A certain amount of healthy debate brings a lot of both leadership and intellectual clarity to any discussion. But, once a decision is made (consensus or not) everyone on the team must line up to do their best and to perform as a team. Otherwise, it creates a major divide and things do not get done, undermining the entire mission.

Now, back to the client: As we were discussing this issue, she asked me how a manager would find out who are the loyal members in a team and who are not. This is good question that all managers and team members must contemplate. One answer to ferreting out the loyal ones in a team is to identify whom you trust implicitly and whom you do not. Trust can be developed by working together and by building a track record of meeting commitments and of being loyal. Any business moves only at the speed of trust. So, developing a culture of trust and letting people display that trust by earning it are critical for any strong team to succeed.

Although my client understood the concept, how she implements it in making her choices and moving forward remains to be seen. Often, mere awareness of factors that people often do not think about or consider in the calculus of their decision-making can provide a new perspective. Studies have shown that although high IQs result in one graduating with top honors (nearly 95% correlation), much of the adult success is only 20% or so correlated to IQ. Now you can see why factors other than IQ—such as trust—matter more in achieving success, especially managerial success!

Begin the journey to your new career today.