I feel uniquely qualified to present the correct definition of loyalty to entrepreneurs and small businesses. In an age where this word is little understood and even less practiced, never before has the need to explain its value been more important. Having grown up in foster care and rejected by those claiming affection and love for me during the first 18 years of my life, I not only didn’t understand what the word meant, I can never remember being exposed to its practice. With no embellishment intended, everyone I knew or came into contact with wanted something from me and hardly, if ever, did it benefit me personally.

However and at the age of 18, I left foster care and joined the United States Marine Corps. During my years of service, I learned the true definition of loyalty and rest assured, neither Webster’s Dictionary, Wikipedia or any other literary source accurately describes its meaning. Loyalty more than anything else is; believing in an ideal which removes self and prefers the best interests of that ideal. It is the opposite of selfishness and extends into the realm of personal sacrifice. I have little doubt most readers have demonstrated loyalty to one company or another while employed. If these experiences are as extensive as mine, you’ve learned that rarely, if ever, is that commitment rewarded.

Unfortunately, many will agree with this assessment because things didn’t quite work out as expected. Remember – loyalty is the opposite of selfishness and requires self-sacrifice. I learned and bought into many thought processes as a Marine but more than anything else, I grasped loyalty to both the Marine Corps and other Marines. Although hard to explain, there is nothing more liberating than putting aside self in the cause of service to others.

When my time in the military ended, I began work in the civilian sector and was greeted by something quite shocking; no one (no hyperbole intended) believed in anything more than collecting a paycheck. Many years removed from the Marine Corps and those civilian work experience(s), I am still stunned each time this ugliness presents itself.

What has this to do with business? As an entrepreneur, you should not only expect loyalty from employees and vendors but must lead by example! Although this blog isn’t meant as a platform for discussions of faith, I am a follower of Jesus Christ. During the long dreary days of beginning this company, I worked for a professing Christian organization. After having worked regular corporate jobs, I sought employment with this non-profit for many reasons but more than anything else, I thought a higher level of comradery would exist by those claiming service to a man who, 2000 years ago, demonstrated its value (Jesus Christ) and commanded HIS disciples to do the same.

As was usual in those days, I bought into the vision cast by the organization (The Denver Rescue Mission) and quickly discovered leadership as well as most employees to be far from who they claimed to be (Christians). For those who may use this revelation as an excuse to say “That’s why I don’t follow faith principles”, the Bible never indicates ‘perfection’ is necessary, only the admission of imperfection and need for a Savior.

Nevertheless; after 7 years of working at the organization as well as previous corporate experience, I found the following things an obstacle to creating great organizations;

1. Senior Leadership, largely responsible for setting organizational culture, not only refuse following the policies enforced on others, they become self-righteous and indignant when others buy into the vision of those policies more than they.

2. Creating a culture of loyalty is largely driven by ‘gimmicks’ such as employee of the month, gift card giveaways and other programs which create jealousy and strife among employees rather than cohesive teams.

3. Poor performers are often rewarded with promotions while those who consistently perform at or above expectations wallow in obscurity. More simply said; the wrong people are recognized in organizations which cause others to take their services elsewhere.

4. Policy and not people is the final arbiter. Great employees go through personal trauma and often times, even though their work record is flawless before, they are thrown away and replaced with sub-par performers.

5. People are viewed as ‘assets’ and not what God created them to be – PEOPLE!

More could be added to the list but the point is made. Most who read this blog post are employed by others and well understand what I’ve pointed out as true. Others may be struggling with whether to leave an employer because you aren’t appreciated. In both cases, I want you to do one thing – begin planning the launch of your own company and create the very culture you expect of others!

Starting and managing a successful business shouldn’t be all about hating an employer and their hypocrisy. I would argue at the moment such disdain enters your heart, you’ve lost what lies at the heart of loyalty – respect for others. Right now, before beginning your journey, write down five goals (I call them strategic imperatives) on which your company’s culture will be based.

Once this is accomplished, read them daily and never lose sight of their importance. I’ve been where you are and truthfully, from a very early age, have experienced more rejection than most can imagine. Owing to the fact of being African-American, the road was that much more difficult. Your journey to business success must never be focused on ‘how others have hurt you’ and now you plan on doing something about it. Should this be your motive(s), company culture is already tainted and won’t produce the results you desire. Let it be about who you are and how you intend to change the world!

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