I have watched Mel Gibon’s Braveheart more times than I care to admit. And I watch it just for William Wallace’s speech as he rallies his troops to go into a battle they cannot win, and as he tells them, “They may take our lives but they’ll never take our freedom!” my heart swells and my eyes fill up… I want to be on that battlefield with him… I want to die for him.
In the Oscar winning Gladiator, Maximus tells his troops: “Three weeks from now, I will be harvesting my crops. Imagine where you will be, and it will be so. Hold the line! Stay with me! If you find yourself alone, riding in green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled, for you are in Elysium, and you’re already dead! Brothers, what we do in life echoes in eternity.”
And who can forget Troy with the irritatingly handsome Brad Pitt, playing Achilles and leading the Myrmidons into battle with the cry “…my brothers of the sword. I’d rather fight alongside you than any army of thousands. Let no man forget how menacing we are. We are lions. You know what’s there waiting beyond that beach? Immortality! Take it. It’s yours!”
What this counter-intuitive sense of loyalty seems to have in common is a leader, risen from amongst them inspiring and challenging them; not to live but to give everything to a glorious and common cause. A narrative that links them all with a common, shared destiny and a glorious immortality that awaits – an immortality that will inspire others with their legendary heroism.
I have read books about war and watched movies depicting these scenarios with great fascination – From Russel Crowe’s Gladiator to Colin Farrel’s Alexander, and numerous other such cinematic greats, and it never ceases to amaze me that the punter, the pawn, seems to unquestioningly follow these great leaders in to battle and often to their own deaths, bringing glory to “insert name here” over and over, through history.
I have myself led a small team of marketing strategists and creative advertising professionals for almost a decade, and list as my greatest professional failure, the inability to invoke the necessary LOYALTY required to get a team of perhaps 50 persons to work a few extra hours to get a ‘campaign’ to market.
I struggled to motivate them to come in (without an unspoken threat of some kind) on a Saturday, being given all kinds or excuses and reasons why they couldn’t make it.
If you’re laughing at the comparison, I am leveraging the word ‘campaign’ to draw a straight line between the two scenarios. A campaign being a series of operations or activities, designed to achieve a specific goal.
Now imagine for one moment, you are a general, commanding thousands of soldiers… your army has been trekking for months, no.. years following you as you invade new lands, plundering them on behalf of King and Country. With every battle you lose hundreds, maybe even thousands of soldiers to arrows, swords and spears. The treks through tropical forests, burning deserts and over windy, icy mountains take their toll as soldiers get sick and die from exhaustion, pneumonia and malaria.
But you go on.
When its come to professional environments, I do believe that people, colleagues and clients alike, aren’t loyal to company; their loyalty and resulting commitment is to a person.
What if a Private started to push back, debated or provided alternate strategies every time the Staff Sergeant gave an order? “But why do we need to cross that hill, sir?” or “Why can’t we just go around the enemy, instead of attacking them” or “But it’s really hot…”
The chaos and the carnage would be devastating! So, what makes a soldier unquestioningly move in the direction of the threat? How does he (or she) overcome their fear of death? Is it loyalty to their country? Loyalty to the General or Sergeant or even loyalty to their regiment or platoon / squad?
I believe it may be – all of the above. A clear sense of vision. The “Why” that Simon Sinek talks about in his book Start with Why – about having purpose. But not a “Why” with regards to the minutia. It’s clarity of a broader purpose – why am I here and why it’s important, maybe even critical. Having a sense of ownership – “everything I do impacts my brothers and sisters and puts them and their families in danger or helps keep them safe”. And this clarity of purpose and ownership are supported by inherent personality traits such as a sense of honour, duty, integrity and a desire to serve, selflessly.
When it comes to professional environments, I do believe that people, colleagues and clients alike, aren’t loyal to a company; their loyalty and resulting commitment is to a person, more often than not a person they report to or deal with regularly – the one that pushes them to excel and helps show them how to be the best professional version of themselves, possible. This colleague also protects them and has their back, ensuring they are well supported and safe in the decisions they take. But how do you transfer extreme levels of loyalty to a situation that isn’t half as extreme; I mean a team of executives delivering advertising strategy and creativity isn’t exactly the Cosa-Nostra is it?
Is loyalty in the corporate environment dead and gone in the way chivalry disappeared from romantic relationships? Has the equation between employer and employee become nothing more than a mere transaction, as companies strive to serve their shareholders: adding and subtracting employees to balance the annual balance sheet and drive profits and dividends?
What are your thoughts? Would love to spark a conversation…