Follow the Leader

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If no one’s behind you, you may have a loyalty
problem.

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More than 10 years ago I sat in a staff meeting ripe with tense
energy. The senior pastor lectured us — his staff — about
loyalty, commitment, and dedication to the “boss.” His words that
day rocked me back on my heels. With great energy and passion, he
aimed his finger at each of us, his eyes piercing as he uttered
words that still ring in my mind: “Listen everyone, I demand your
loyalty!”

I was in my 20s and the youngest person on staff at the table that
day. I was naïve about the political climate of our church…and I
had a tendency toward sarcasm. These two things usually didn’t mix
well when I spoke up or questioned anything. I remember sitting at
the table, processing the information I’d just heard, and deciding
it would most definitely be in my best interest to not speak up
this time. Even so, I raised my hand.

“What is it, Craig?” barked the pastor.

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I then spoke the few, simple words that landed me on an
exit-from-staff pattern over the next two years: “I don’t think you
can demand loyalty. I think it’s earned.”

What did I just say? I might as well have said, “Next Friday will
be my last day; thanks for the opportunity to work here.”

The senior pastor said nothing — at least, not verbally. His
nonverbal communication was quite enough, and I heard it loud and
clear.

The Essence of Loyalty

To this day, I look back and wonder, Was I right? Was I
wrong?

What is loyalty? How do you get it? Is it earned, demanded,
coerced, or built over time? I thought I knew a decade ago. But
since then, I’ve been driven to the Scriptures to find out what
loyalty is really all about.

Several years ago I found a key passage explaining loyalty. It’s
Joshua 1:16-18, describing the children of
Israel’s response to their new leader, Joshua, after Moses died.
Their response was an expression of commitment, dedication, and
willingness to follow their new leader. But if you look closely at
verse 18, you’ll notice a condition on the leader’s part –
something that’s necessary for every leader to do to earn and
maintain loyalty.

If the Lord our God will help you as he helped Moses, and if
you are strong and brave, we will obey you as we obeyed Moses.
We’ll even put to death anyone who rebels against you or refuses to
obey you.

-Joshua 1:18 (Contemporary English Version)

The condition: “If you are strong and brave, we will obey you as
we obeyed Moses.”

You must be courageous, brave, willing to lead. You must be
willing to pay the price, crash through quitting points, and be
worthy of others’ loyalty. This Scripture expresses an expectation
of availability, commitment, honor, and respect — all
characteristics of loyalty-building leadership.

If you’re courageous, brave, and strong in the face of difficulty,
people will follow you and you’ll foster a culture of loyalty. The
opposite is also true. If you waver, shrink from difficulty, or
don’t particularly like the heat that comes from being in the fire
of tension and persecution, then you probably won’t have loyal
followers. Why? People want to know before they charge into hell
with a squirt gun whether you’re willing to get burned or if you’ll
cut and run at the last second.

The Battle for Loyalty

The problem with loyalty is that it’s not easy to come by since
it’s dependent on others’ choices. If it were easy, every leader
would have it. Even if you provide the best possible
loyalty-building environment, those serving with you still have to
choose to be loyal.

Jesus had this issue. He preselected 12 followers. They were, for
the most part, loyal. Sure, there was the situation with Peter just
before Jesus’ crucifixion, and there was also one who appeared to
be loyal when in fact he was extremely disloyal: Judas, of course.
Jesus knew the pain of betrayal and lack of commitment. So if
you’ve felt the pains of disloyalty, you’re in good company. We’ve
all experienced others’ mistrust, confidentiality breaches, and
betrayal.

It takes a lot to get people following you, and it takes even more
to keep them loyal. And just because you’ve earned loyalty doesn’t
mean you automatically get to keep it. Loyalty is active. You must
prove yourself continually and be willing to run into the fire over
and over. You don’t buy it, you don’t demand it, and you don’t
assume it.

Think of it this way. Every time you do or say something that
earns someone’s trust, that person takes out an imaginary wallet
and adds trust credits. When there are enough trust credits,
loyalty develops. But whenever you say or do something
untrustworthy, the person withdraws trust credits. Poof — there
they go into thin air. And these withdrawals occur in large
increments, because it’s incredibly easy to wipe your accrued trust
with careless actions and words. You can be labeled untrustworthy
with one poor choice and ruin a relationship in a matter of
minutes. Building loyalty can take years, and yes, it’s hard
work.

You need to understand where loyalty comes from and how to develop
it if you want to become a leader worth following. Let’s look at
common myths about loyalty.

     

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