How Do You Inspire Loyalty to the Goal?

Last Updated May 6, 2011 3:43 PM EDT

For all the good news emanating from the elimination of Osama bin Laden, there is one aspect of the mission that is receiving relatively little coverage. And it is too bad because there is a lesson in what is being overlooked.

Last summer U.S. intelligence sources noted the possibility that a "high value target" may be living in walled luxury in a remote town in Pakistan. In September the President, chief aides, national security officials, CIA officials and military leaders began holding regular meetings. In time it was learned that the target might be bin Laden. Yet not once during this long period of meetings â€" when not everyone was in agreement â€" was security breached.

Loyalty to the Big Cause

In Washington where leaking information is blood sport, this is remarkable. It is a tribute to the President's ability to head a multi-disciplinary team and keep everyone focused on a single goal. But it also is a tribute to the men and women â€" military, civil servants, and yes, politicians â€" maintaining a code of secrecy in pursuit of a mission. Why did they do it?

The obvious answer is national security and the ability to bring the world's most high profile outlaw to justice. But that's not the full story. And here's where it matters to leaders outside government. These men and women were loyal to a cause greater than themselves. From this cause they drew hope and applied their professionalism to see that the job was well done.

Loyalty to the Cause Means Shared Values, Not Blind Obedience

While you probably won't be party to such a high stake gambit as the search for bin Laden, you can strive to instill a sense of shared purpose so that you inspire a loyalty to the mission. Many leaders make the mistake of conflating loyalty to a cause with obedience to the leader. Big mistake. In fact such misapplication is what fuels breakdowns â€" be it in security or in failure to complete a project.

Most people follow leaders they admire and are loyal to them, but as James MacGregor Burns has written so eloquently, this kind of loyalty stems from shared values; followers and leaders believe in the same things.

Leader Becomes Facilitator

How a leader engenders commitment to the cause is the subject of a forthcoming book but it can be summed up by stating simply that the leader becomes the facilitator, allowing followers to channel their energies and organizational resources toward getting the job done right.

The cause needs to be big but not grandiose. For example, human resource professionals work hard to make their companies employers of choice. As such talent comes to them. Think Google or Whole Foods. But also many companies large and small that you never heard of but which people want to work for because employees feel like contributors, not hired hands.

Put People First

As facilitators of the cause, it falls to leaders to live the purpose of the organization. They lead by example by doing what is necessary to keep the operation running smoothly. Such leaders also put people first, not simply in words but in actions. They coach and develop as well as challenge and cajole. They put them in positions where their talents and skills match the job and so the employees have the opportunity to prove themselves.

Creating and sustaining common cause is never easy but as seen with the success of the mission to capture bin Laden the rewards can be high.

Have you inspired loyalty to a goal in your organization? What worked?

image courtesy of art_es_anna