Understanding the difference between loyalty and honesty

June 21, 2021

What do you value more, honesty or loyalty? There isn’t an easy answer to this question, but successful change requires each in varying amounts.

Imagine you are the mother or father of a blushing bride to be. Six months before the wedding she brings you with her and her friends to the local bridal shop to choose the dress. Your daughter tries on a black wedding dress and falls in love with it. Her friends seem to be on board, but this may have dashed your vision of walking her down the aisle in a gorgeous white wedding gown. “What do you think?” she asks.

What do you say?

Now, imagine that it is the day of the wedding and you have not been involved in selecting the wedding dress. Your daughter comes out wearing a black dress – not the white one you had envisioned. “How do I look?” she asks.

What do you say?

It is likely that your response will vary depending on the situation. You will probably favour loyalty if it is the day of the wedding and you are just then made aware of the black dress. You hate the dress as it clashes with the image you initially had in mind, but you refuse to share this information with your daughter. It is her day and you do not want to spoil it for her.

You are more likely to be honest if it is six months before the wedding, voicing your displeasure with her selection, even though this has the potential to hurt her feelings.

In short, you will likely opt for honesty or loyalty depending on the situation. There is little sense in hurting your daughter’s feelings and spoiling the day by being honest if the ceremony is mere hours away. We rely on loyalty when we have to move rapidly.

If there is a reasonable gap of time and things are not developing rapidly, honesty is a more reasonable – and maybe desirable – course. 

Each of us has an emotional bank account. A deposit is made every time an individual or organization asks for our honesty. A withdrawal is made every time an individual or organization asks for our loyalty.

It is important for leaders to understand this bank account. They must be careful to avoid bankrupting it through consistent and unyielding reliance on loyalty.

When it comes to change efforts, honesty means that individuals are given a stake in the change effort, helping to create the new way. Their input is valued and included in whatever change is being made.

Loyalty is what is drawn upon when people are being changed. Remember, people don’t necessarily resist change; they resist being changed.

Great leaders keep this loyalty/honesty balance in mind when pulling together their change teams.