This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab
It started as a conversation over dinner with an accomplished group of peers from around the world about millennials – whether they will pursue their careers in a single company or, as someone suggested, "make a guest appearance" – but it soon turned into an animated debate about what constitutes the most important attribute in a work relationship.
We all agreed that loyalty is the thing we value above all else.
Loyalty is a trait that rises above an MBA from the best school or insight gained from time with a competitor. It's more important than the highly sought understanding of data analytics or the willingness to pull an all-nighter.
After working remotely for a year with some members of this group on a project, it was also clear that we felt loyalty – to each other and to the leader-among-equals with whom we were working.
So what does loyalty look like?
Loyalty is clear, like glass.
Our group had a level of transparency between us. We shared knowledge and information. We passed our ideas like batons in a relay race. The candour and pace of sharing information was refreshing. It's risky to share information that could harm you if used outside its intended purpose or outside the group. But in return for this trust, you get valuable feedback that has the benefit of broader thinking.
Loyalty is dependable, like your first bike.
We honoured our commitments to each other, showing up prepared and on time. Our meetings were often called on short notice and at inconvenient times, and sometimes involved plane rides and sleep-robbing time zones. Yet despite how busy we all were, it was rare for someone not to make a meeting. It felt important to be there – to contribute, to be helpful and to be loyal to the cause, the leader and each other.
Loyalty is honest, like your bathroom scale.
It won't always tell you what you want to hear, but it gives you information you trust and keeps you coming back for more. As a group, we challenged the ideas on the table, and each other. Respectfully, but loudly, we debated the merits of the direction we would recommend. Most of us would live with the final decision for years, so we were not shy about expressing our concerns or our ideas to make it a little bit better.
We respected and liked each other. I felt confident that, even if the end result did not go the way some of us wanted, we would fully support and adopt it. When the leader presented our recommendation to the executive committee – with all the investment and commitment that went into it – she never doubted there was a loyal team behind her.
I believe that millennials will do just fine – with the boomers, and the Gen Xers and Gen Yers – if they take loyalty to heart. Indeed, the whole alphabet of us will do just fine if we do the same.
Whether you stay at one company for your entire career (a definition of loyalty from an earlier time) or make a guest appearance; whether you lock into a department or join an agile work team as a consultant; or whether you work from a distant shore or in a cube farm, one way to move ahead is to remember the value of loyalty.
Find the people who will be loyal to you and the people to whom you will be loyal. They might not seem obvious at first, so choose them carefully. True loyalty is not a one-way street; if it only flows only one way, it is at the expense of another person.
When you find your people, do your best work with them. Have their backs, share your knowledge and challenge their ideas. Go to them with your biggest problems. Have the tough conversations and see how they handle them, what kind of advice they give and the level of confidentiality they observe.
Think of them like your family – but please don't mistake this for favouritism, which implies preferential treatment that has not been earned.
Loyalty is a gift worth giving – and a wonderful thing to receive in return.
Colleen Albiston (@clalbiston) is the chief marketing officer at Deloitte Canada (@DeloitteCanada), a professional services firms that provides audit, tax, consulting, and financial advisory services.