I have two small dogs. One of my least favorite things to do in the winter time (which seems to last seven months here in Wisconsin) is take them for their multiple daily walks. But this time of year gives me the opportunity to take long walks with them, providing some much needed exercise for both the dogs and me. I tend to listen to the radio on my smart phone as I go on these walks. Today, I happened to tune in to an interview on Wisconsin Public Radio with Eric Felton, New York Times columnist and author of “Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue.” Felton was discussing the topic of loyalty and I felt myself quickly absorbed by the interview.
Felton says that we all have numerous relationships, both personal and business, and we have different levels of loyalty within those relationships. He said, “We often find ourselves in positions where we can’t maintain equilibrium between all our relationships. They end up coming into conflict. So our loyalties to those different relationships come into conflict.”
He brought up a good example of loyalty. West Point cadets are bound to follow the institution’s rules and regulations. West Point stresses that there is zero tolerance for breaking the rules. Any violation is dealt with swiftly. Not only does West Point expect its cadets to follow the rules and regulations, it expects cadets to report incidents where other cadets violate the rules and regulations.
At the same time, West Point works hard to instill a culture of teamwork and loyalty within the ranks. These are cadets that may end up fighting alongside one another in the future, and they need to have a high level of trust and loyalty to each other.
Felton points out that there lies the conundrum. How can West Point expect the cadets to be loyal to the institution by turning in fellow rule-breaking cadets when by nature the act of turning in a classmate violates the loyalty between cadets that West Point actively promotes?
According to Felton, what ends up happening most of the time in this case is that the cadets end up overlooking minor infractions in order to remain loyal to their classmates. The bad thing is that sometimes this leads to them overlooking more severe violations. Where do they draw the line? What constitutes a major infraction that necessitates reporting the incident?
The conflict of loyalty pops up in just about every work environment. A director of maintenance may have an aircraft that needs to be delivered in a week. He has a crew working 12-hour days to accomplish the maintenance on-time. His loyalty to the crew drives him to work 12-hour days alongside them. Then there is the family vacation that was scheduled long before the maintenance project came up. He feels loyalty to his family to take them on the planned vacation, but is torn by putting his crew in a tougher position by not being available if he takes the time off. It is a balancing act many of us face. Being too loyal to the family may end up costing our job and the income we needs to support our family. Being too loyal to the job may end up costing our personal relationships.
Creating a blame game culture in the work place can quickly lead to loyalty conflicts. If we address incidents and accidents by reprimanding employees instead of trying to find the true root causes and fixing them, we are forcing employees to choose either loyalty to a company that will bring the hammer down on them, or loyalty to their self-preservation by trying to hide what happened. It is a situation destined to fail! Then there is the FAA. As A&P mechanics, we must maintain professional loyalty to follow the FARs. Unfortunately, loyalty to the almighty dollar forces some to cross the line and violate the regulations. These are just a few examples of how conflicts of loyalty can turn up in the workplace. Conflicts of loyalty happen all the time. How we choose to address these conflicts defines who we are and what our future opportunities will be.
Thanks for reading!