How Leaders Create Loyalty

There are leaders, and then there are those who actually lead. Every executive who supervises others knows how to motivate people—that skill isn’t difficult.

However a truly good leader creates loyal customers and engaged employees and inspires them to go beyond incentives and self-interest. That’s the most challenging part of inspirational leadership: how does one create loyalty?

General Motors so successfully motivated people to buy their cars, for example, they sold more than any other automaker in the world for over 77 years.

Although they were first in their industry, they did not inspire loyalty.

External incentives or benefits are insufficient. True leaders create followers who are inspired—not simply swayed by marketing or hype.

I believe that when customers and employees are loyal, their willingness to act is rooted in a deeply personal cause greater than themselves—even sometimes when it means making a personal sacrifice.

They’re willing to pay a premium, put up with inconvenience, and even ignore some of their own pain and suffering. They will do whatever it takes to follow your ideas because they believe in you and your company.

Many times it’s because they are dedicated to finding solutions that improve others’ lives. Almost always, they link their own motivation to a cause greater than themselves, greater than you, greater than the organization.

Although incentives may work for the short term, there are disadvantages to using them. Incentives plans don’t work. Eventually people focus on the prize and take shortcuts. They forget to focus on the work itself. Innovation suffers. Creativity gets swept aside. The goal is the goal itself, and it’s hard to remain inspired or loyal to a prize.

You don’t inspire employees with money, gym facilities or company picnics. You inspire employees when you convince them to care about why their job is important.

As for customers, never mistake repeat business for loyalty. Repeat business means people do business with you multiple times. Loyalty means people are willing to turn down a better offer to continue doing business with you. Loyal customers don’t even bother to research the competition or other options.

That is why leadership communications have to include more than strategy, incentives and milestones. There has to be a meaningful “why should we care?” beyond personal interests and corporate cliches.

I can’t remember where I read it but one study showed that more than 80 percent of U.S. employees don’t believe they’re working in their dream jobs. What if leaders could change this?

What if they began to inspire their people with why they do what they do, instead of the what and the how of company policies and procedures? What if 80 percent of your workforce actually thought they had landed their dream jobs?

As always, I’d love to hear from you.

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