Is Loyalty to the Boss Mandatory?

Last Updated Sep 25, 2009 10:04 AM EDT

Dear Ron, I just started a new job and my boss has already made it clear he expects a lot of loyalty and allegiance from me. I'm not sure I want to commit to that yet, so what should I do in the meantime?
When you're starting a new job with a new boss, there are of course general expectations that you can and should agree to, such as to execute your job responsibilities, take direction effectively, and support your boss's overall efforts. And these are expectations you'd want to openly and enthusiastically commit to. What your new boss seems to be asking for, however, is something more on the order of personal loyalty, which to me seems premature and even inappropriate, since that's something that's only earned over time. So you quickly need to get more information about him and his standing within the company in order to figure out what's behind this request.

You'll want to talk to your new colleagues, as well as other people who may interact with your new boss, to see how well (or poorly) he's perceived and regarded, and to get a sense of his personal style. You also want to find out how well your department is viewed within the company, and you want to do this sleuthing in such a way that your true objective of sizing up your boss is not apparent.

Once you've got a handle on these things, you'll be able to better analyze why your boss is demanding so much loyalty right up front. There are a few main possibilities-one is that your new boss simply runs a tight ship and wants you to join the team and get cracking. This approach can create antagonism, but as long as your boss has achieved results with it and there don't seem to be any other red flags about his behavior, then you might as well sign up for it, particularly since you're new.

Another possibility, though, is that your boss could be vulnerable within your company and so he needs to be reassured that people are going to deliver and protect his back. In this case, you should still sign up for the program, but over time, make sure you're aware of other people and options at your company in case you need to move on to another boss and/or group eventually.

Finally, your boss's requests could just be a personal style of micro-management that masks his insecurity. It can be difficult to work for someone like this, so this is also a situation where you should monitor things and make sure you establish contacts with other people in your company. Also, keep in mind that your boss may become disappointed and angry if you eventually end up moving to another group, so it's important you've done your homework about your boss's relative standing in your company so you can protect yourself.

I once had a client who was a manager at a utilities company whose boss demanded almost total loyalty from her. My client went along with this, but to the detriment of her career-she was seen by others in the company as almost joined-at-the-hip with her boss and so my client's individual strengths never stood out. She should have recognized this danger earlier on and done more to make her individual talents known to a broader group of people at the company. But she was never able to break out of that dynamic, and her career has simply mirrored the ups and downs of her boss.

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  • Ron Brown

    Ronald B. Brown is a leading expert in the fields of leadership development and organizational change. He is the founder and president of Banks Brown, a management consulting firm that specializes in providing leading-edge skills to optimize the performance of leaders and organizations. He has served as a consultant to Fortune 100 corporations such as the Procter & Gamble Company, Avon Products, Inc., McDonald's Corporation, General Electric Plastics, Kaiser Permanente, Shell Oil Company, Eastman Kodak Company, General Mills Inc., and Motorola, Inc. Brown holds a Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley, and an M.A. and B.S. from Michigan State University.