The Bottom Line

I was in my suit, sitting in a chair that looked more comfortable than it was, waiting for my would-be employer to break the silence. The interview was going well, if you call correctly answering a set of standard questions “going well.” I passed the time by looking for useful information on the office walls – she might shift the conversation and one of the hanging mementos might be important.

I hadn’t found anything interesting yet when she turned back to me and said, “I’m looking for loyalty.”

“Loyalty” was the wrong word. She meant “an unpaid after-hours administrative assistant.” I know because I sometimes ran into the person who abandoned the position I was interviewing for on the way home, hours after the workday ended. She was coming from work; I was coming from hanging out. I never met her replacement, who lasted nine months – just long enough for me to forget why my acquaintance quit. Without access to that memory, I was stuck contemplating something she said about not giving me too much extra work, wondering whether I could trust her.

True loyalty is most often earned over time, through multiple interactions with another person. Through these interactions, followers infer what kind of people their leaders are. When followers conclude that leaders are stable, trustworthy, and care about them as a person, they are more likely to work hard to help leaders achieve their goals. However, leaders can also fabricate loyalty through fear:

A district Party conference was under way in Moscow Province. It was presided over by a new secretary of the District Party Committee, replacing one recently arrested. At the conclusion of the conference, a tribute to Comrade Stalin was called for. Of course, everyone stood up (just as everyone had leaped to his feet during the conference at every mention of his name). The small hall echoed with “stormy applause, rising to an ovation.” For three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, the “stormy applause, rising to an ovation,” continued. But palms were getting sore and raised arms were already aching. And the older people were panting from exhaustion. It was becoming insufferably silly even to those who really adored Stalin. However, who would dare be the first to stop?

[After an 11-minute ovation, the first man to stop clapping was sentenced to 10 years in prison on made up charges.]

– Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn
The Gulag Archipelago

or reward:

[After sneaking into Liberian President William Tolbert’s house to learn why he and other members of the Liberian army had not been paid, Sergeant Samuel Doe found Tolbert sleeping and killed him.] In short order, he proceeded to replace virtually everyone who had been in the government or the army with members of his own small Krahn tribe, which made up only about 4 percent of the population. He increased the pay of army privates from $85 to $250 per month. He purged everyone he did not trust. Following secret trials, he had no fewer than fifty of his original collaborators executed. Doe funded his government, as his predecessors had, with revenues from Firestone, which leased large tracts of land for rubber; from the Liberian Iron Mining Company, which exported iron ore; and by registering more than 2,500 ocean-going ships without requiring safety inspections. Further, he received direct financial backing from the United States government. The United States gave Doe’s government $500 million over ten years. In exchange the United States received basing rights and made Liberia a center for US intelligence and propaganda. It is believed that Doe and his cronies personally amassed $300 million.

– Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith
The Dictator’s Handbook

but those who follow for these reasons are more likely to slack off when the leader is out of sight or fade soon after they sense the blade dulling or the vault emptying. Finally, some people sincerely believe that authority shouldn’t be questioned. When these people are followers, they tend to comply more easily and ask fewer questions of leadership than others.

This was my first interaction with my would-be employer, and since my salary would be based strictly on experience, she had no power to punish or reward me. I considered pointing out that she should be more concerned with my skills, but I wasn’t there to debate philosophy. I was there to get a job. She hadn’t quite asked me a question, so I didn’t quite give her an answer. I said, “Uh…okay,” and let her keep talking.

When I got home, I vented for an hour calmly considered the situation. The concept of loyalty was as out of place in the context of the job I was interviewing for as it would be if I applied for a job chucking rocks into a black hole. It might make sense if she had just taken over a large organization. There, she might be looking to fire people so she could reward those who helped her get the job with lucrative positions. But this was a five-person office. All she needed was someone capable of doing the work. Unless she was referring to after-hours work…

A few days later, I got the good news – a second interview! I prepared to impress with stories of my legendary work ethic. I sat down, opened my mouth, and out popped stories of my love of finishing my work quickly so I can leave work and enjoy my life.

I didn’t get the job. A few days later I remembered why my acquaintance quit.

Works Referenced

Subscribe to my Newsletter!

Leave a Reply