“It was my fault. I screwed up,” I told Jack Gifford, Maxim Integrated Products founding CEO. “You should be screaming at me, not him!”
I didn’t want Steve (my boss) to take the beating for my screw-up. I wanted Jack to tear into me, not Steve.
Jack didn’t care. He kept his guns pointed at Steve and he wouldn’t relent.
Ten minutes later it was over. Steve was bloodied from the bullets he had taken. The CEO had made his point and left the meeting.
And I was indebted to Steve forever. You are fortunate in your career to have one or two really good bosses or mentors and Steve was one of my mentors.
Each mentor provides you different knowledge. I only worked for Steve for about one year before he retired, but he forever impacted me.
Steve had in many ways the toughest job in the company. Imagine being in the middle of a battle with bullets flying in every direction at you and you get the general idea.
Yet, Steve always carried himself with class and grace. He was a beacon of calm in a very stormy ocean.
And Steve’s people were incredibly loyal to Steve.
Why is loyalty so important?
You could start by asking Julius Caesar about Brutus. But I think Shakespeare has already covered that one.
Betrayal brings down governments.
Betrayal can destroy or nearly destroy companies.
Betrayal can destroy teams.
On the flipside, a loyal team full of A players can do just about anything it sets its mind to. That’s why it’s so important to create an environment that creates loyalty.
Loyalty starts with you.
I think you have it completely backwards if you just expect people to be loyal. Yes, in an ideal world that’s what should happen.
However, you have to create an environment that allows the best chance for loyalty. Great leaders naturally understand this.
The first rule of building loyal teams: You need to have the backs of your teammates.
When your team knows you have their backs, they will go to the end of the Earth for you. Every one of Steve’s reports (not just me) felt tremendous loyalty to Steve.
And they demonstrated their loyalty through hard work and going the extra mile.
The second rule of building loyal teams: Never ever, ever scrimp on integrity.
This should probably be rule number one, but having the backs of your teammates fit better in the flow of story.
What’s the most important attribute any employee can have?
Is it being smart? Nope.
Is it being passionate? Nope.
Is it fit within the company? Nope.
It’s integrity without a doubt. Integrity is about having strong moral principles. In other words, integrity is the key ingredient in finding loyal employees.
You know the genius you want to hire with a little bit of a questionable character?
That’s right. Just don’t hire him.
Every time. Every single time I have made the mistake of hiring a really smart person whose integrity was in question I have lived to regret it.
Every. Single. Time.
The third rule of building loyal teams: Promote from within whenever possible.
I am always looking for ambitious people to bring onto the team. Ambitious people want to grow and be promoted.
Now I am not saying to promote people just to keep them happy. I am saying that rewarding excellent work with a promotion is always the way to go.
Back to my story of working with Steve…
The company was growing at a rapid rate, so management was always looking for people to take on more responsibility. Steve was retiring (a massive loss for the company). One of the last things he did was request that Jack promote me.
I knew Steve’s track record of promoting his people. I knew I was likely to be rewarded for my work. Sure enough, that held true. This brings me to…
The fourth rule of building loyal teams: Give your team the freedom to create.
The natural tendency of all companies as they grow is to create more rules and procedures. RESIST IT AT ALL COSTS! Instead, make the bold decision to increase employee freedom.
We did, and it paid off for the team. Do it, and your team’s motivation will go up big time. A more motivated team is a loyal team.
The fifth rule of building loyal teams: Sometimes you get it wrong and you need to fix things
Now you can do everything right as a manager and still get it wrong. There’s always going to be someone that doesn’t work out.
You need to let the person go whether the reason is poor performance or disloyalty. Loyalty to the team involves removing people that are not performing.
The sixth rule of building loyal teams: You need go beyond the rules to do what’s right.
There are good rules and there are rules that are made to be broken. A great leader knows when to break the rules to build loyalty.
There are two CEO’s I worked for that stand out: one for the right reasons and one for the wrong reasons. I’ll start with the right way to do things.
Jack Gifford, the same CEO that tore my boss Steve apart, also had a heart of gold. He made his personal physician (who was on the board of Stanford Hospital) available to his management team.
My Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, and the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. I needed a second opinion on what the best course of treatment was for my Mom. The next thing I knew, I was getting a second opinion from Jack’s physician. That’s the right way to do things.
You’d better believe that built loyalty.
Now for the wrong way…
I worked for a CEO, “Bob,” who was very old school. He made employees take vacation time for any doctor visits taken during normal business hours.
The rule was silly, stupid, and illegal in California. It pissed employees off because it felt like school where you needed a hall pass to go to the bathroom. It also felt like Bob was being cheap at the employees expense.
Interestingly enough, Bob ended up paying for his foolishness with his job. Even more interesting is how he lost his job.
That’s right. Bob was betrayed by his own employees.