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Loyalty and Submission

Years ago, I experienced a leadership change while working for a small company. I found myself under the supervision of a new boss and a new boss’s boss. If you have never experienced anything like that before, I can tell you that it is very stressful. As a PM, I did not know if I would be replaced by someone that my boss or my boss’s boss preferred for my position. During such volatile times, changes in key personnel are not unusual, and neither is the stress that stems from the uncertainty. I was challenged to first keep calm myself so that I could keep my staff calm. Yes, times were uncertain, but for most of us, there was no reason to panic. If we panicked, we would not be able to think clearly enough to navigate through the change.

Conscientious new leaders build relationships with their subordinates in order to be successful. Every leader has his or her own way of building these relationships. In my case, my boss’s boss, let’s call her Sandy, decided that the company should fire one of my senior managers because of her perceived leadership deficiencies. This leader, let’s call her Jan, was effective, but not a rock star. Jan delivered, but not in a way that inspired her team members. Jan struggled at times, but not in an egregious manner, not in a manner that, in my opinion, should have put her on the chopping block. But Jan had reason to panic.

I did not agree with firing Jan, but I was unable to convince Sandy that Jan should stay. I did not know Sandy, and I felt as though she was testing me—perhaps this was her way of testing my obedience to her. I felt as though my job was on the line if I did not submit to Sandy’s demand. I held my nose and carried out my assignment. Even as I write this, my stomach turns.

During this situation, I developed a cynical definition of loyalty: loyalty means you are willing to carry out your leadership’s vendettas as if they were your own. Your leadership’s resentment becomes your own resentment; you develop a need for vengeance that is married to your leader’s need for vengeance, a need that is satisfied only when your leadership’s vengeance is satisfied. I felt like I’d been inducted into the mob.

I had to prioritize my fears. I was afraid of losing my job, of being unable to take care of my family, pay my mortgage, and put food on the table. I was more afraid of not being able to fill my safety and physiological needs than my self-esteem needs.

You can learn something in almost any situation, and I learned how hard being a follower can be. I would never put any follower in such a position, and you should not either.

 
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