Where Do Your Loyalties Lie?

University of Alabama Head Football Coach Nick Saban holding up a t-shirt that says, “God Family Country Alabama” (Note: I am NOT an Alabama fan, but I do love college football, just not more than my values)

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” — Mark 6:24

In a recent job interview, I was asked, “what is the toughest thing you have ever done in your life?” I dug deep and I answered honestly. Surprisingly, what came up for me was not my time in combat in the U.S. Marine Corps or any of the tough physical training I endured. The toughest thing I have done in my life was choosing to report my biological father to the authorities for elder financial abuse against my grandmother (his own mother). To some people, maybe this would have been an easy thing to do. What he did was wrong — it was stealing — and even if the victim was a complete stranger, the right thing to do was to report it. On the other hand, I bet there are some people who believe I was wrong to betray my own father, even though I confronted him directly and gave him a chance to remedy the situation before calling the authorities.

Dual loyalties can cause uncomfortable conflicts in our lives and can convince us to compromise our own integrity and values — especially when it comes to choosing between loyalty to a person we care about and loyalty to a higher cause. In the corporate world, I have had more than one boss directly demand my loyalty to them personally — “Your loyalty is to me!” or blindly to the organization (Note: this is not my current boss or employer). I made it clear that my loyalty was to my own values first and when they no longer matched the company’s values or that of its leaders, I voted with my feet. I have learned to beware of leaders who surround themselves with “yes-men” and “yes-women.” These people have a deep insecurity that cannot be filled by power or money, but only by the worship they get from others. When they can’t get that appreciation at home or in a natural way at work, they use their power and authority to make people praise them.

In society, especially in the United States right now, there is a lot of tension between dual loyalties. There is loyalty to your family and loyalty to your job and employer. There is loyalty to your personal religious beliefs or values and loyalty to your tribe or political party. There is loyalty to your political party and loyalty to your country. There is loyalty to your country and loyalty to humankind. There is loyalty to the rule of law (the Constitution) and loyalty to the rule of man (your person). There is loyalty to your team winning and loyalty to playing the game with integrity. For some, these may seem like easy choices to make. For most, they are not.

Humans are tribal by nature, and we struggle to choose loyalty to an intangible principle over loyalty to a person or a team. We inherently want to win. We want to personally win. We want our family to win. We want our sports teams to win. We want our tribe to win. We want our party to win. We want our country to win. Continuing down this path, we see millions of people being willing to win at almost any cost. We see millions of people putting their loyalty to a person and to winning over their loyalty to truth, freedom, fairness, and equality.

I love what organizational psychologist and Wharton Professor Adam Grant recently wrote about this, “When you follow a leader, consider what would lead you to withdraw your support. If the answer is nothing, your integrity is in jeopardy. Your highest loyalty belongs to principles, not people. No leader deserves unconditional love. Commitment is earned through character.”

Or as the famous Christian author C.S. Lewis wrote in That Hideous Strength:

“There’s such a thing as loyalty,” said Jane.

MacPhee, who had been carefully shutting up the snuff-box, suddenly looked up with a hundred covenanters in his eyes.

“There is, Ma’am,” he said. “As you get older you will learn that it is a virtue too important to be lavished on individual personalities.”

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Nate Boaz

Nate Boaz

Dad, dog lover, Marine veteran, Author, Ex-McKinsey Partner, Ex-Accenture SMD, Harvard MBA, USNA alum.