Loyalty Cannot Be Demanded
Leaders Don’t Demand Loyalty They Inspire It

Loyalty has been a big word in the past two weeks. In fact, the phrase “I expect loyalty” generates over 40,000,000 Google entries, and at least the first 35 pages of results are from the past six days (if you’ve been off the grid, on June 8th, Former FBI Director James Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee).

The subtitle of my second book is “Inspire Lifetime Loyalty From Your Employees” – I have a strong opinion about loyalty – what it’s worth, how it’s relevant, how to generate it, and most importantly how NOT to create loyalty.

Loyalty Cannot Be Demanded or Paid For

Biggest lesson? Loyalty cannot be demanded or paid for. That’s not loyalty – that’s a transaction. Loyalty is expressed by a strong feeling of support or allegiance. Here’s the Merriam-Webster entry for your full edification.  It’s how you act when you don’t have to. Like integrity, you can measure loyalty by when it’s expressed when people aren’t looking.

People inspire loyalty…they earn it. And while I don’t subscribe to the notion or corporate personhood, I do believe that organizations can also inspire loyalty by how they act over time regardless of who is in charge. I believe this principle in action is what will separate those companies that thrive in the future from those that move from issue to issue, surviving with brute strength not with the lift that loyalty provides in the marketplace.

Measure An Employee’s Loyalty Once They’re Off The Payroll

The biggest benefit of loyalty is not during an employees’ tenure – it’s after they leave our companies to pursue their personal or professional goals, and become an unpaid advocate for their former employers. I call this advocacy “boomeranging” – traveling far and wide and coming back to benefit the company you left of your own volition. Boomeranging can take many forms, from encouraging someone you know to apply for a job at your former employer, to posting a positive review on Glass Door or CareerBliss, to forging a business partnership between your current and former employer, all the way to returning to the company for a second or third tour of duty.

These forms of Boomeranging are net positive contributors to any company or institution. Organizations of all sizes need to be focused on creating a positive dynamic that inspires former employees to act in their former employers’ interest when they don’t have to. This is low-friction business that helps organizations not just survive but thrive.


3 Ways To Inspire Loyalty From Former Employees

  1. Understand Your Employees’ Goals. Demonstrate that the company holds its employees’ ambitions as important during employment. Building loyalty starts when employees are on the payroll. In today’s environment when Millennials are focused on career building in a different way than their Boomer and GenXer colleagues may have been, it’s important to understand where your employees want to “get to” – what do they want to accomplish. Then, assuming they are doing the work at hand well, helping that employee accomplish their goals within the structure of work you can provide. Hierarchy – that march up the career ladder – is antithetical to the Millennial experience. Don’t assume that your career path is someone else’s.
  2. Show People How To Leave. Every time we hire people we know they are going to leave us. Every. Single. Time. Our disappointment in people leaving is because they leave when we don’t want them to. Rise above this disappointment and show people how they will be Boomerang-Eligible – how they can create the exit that will allow them to return as employees in the future. I meet with every new employee at Double Forte in their first two weeks, and part of my conversation is just this. “I’m so happy you are here, and I’m excited to work with you. I hope you are here for a long time, but I know that you might not be. The most important thing to me is that when you do eventually leave Double Forte, you will be proud of the time you spent with us. Also, my hope is that after you leave that you will return to the company.” And then I show them how to leave so that can happen for them:
    1. Be honest. The most loyal thing you can do at Double Forte is leave the company when the opportunity we have for you doesn’t fit your goals (and you’ve shared your goals so that we can do whatever we can to help you achieve your objectives). We will help you be successful somewhere else.
    2. Don’t leave your team hanging. Before you give your notice, write up a document about everything you’re working on – deadlines, potential issues, recommendations on how to proceed without you, and weigh in other things you’d be responsible for in the coming months.
  3. Help them in their career after they leave. At the very least create a private Facebook group of your former employees and share interesting information, training modules, and company updates regularly. Create the ability for former employees to network among themselves. Host a quarterly online seminar with the industry update you provide to your employees (obviously, strip out any confidential info first). If you continue to be a source of professional advancement and development for your former employees, chances are much higher that they will reciprocate in some positive way.


Loyalty is an intangible that has direct impact to the bottom line. Demanding loyalty is the first step in hurting your chance of receiving it. Demonstrate that you are worthy of someone’s loyalty and you — and your organization — will benefit appreciably over the long haul.