I Ask You: Is Loyalty or Honesty More Important

Honesty or loyalty…it’s a simple question, right? Or is it? Those three words have stirred up some enlightening conversations in my world as of late and I felt the need to share them with you. I have come to the conclusion that leadership is 95% a...


Honesty or loyalty…it’s a simple question, right? Or is it? Those three words have stirred up some enlightening conversations in my world as of late and I felt the need to share them with you. I have come to the conclusion that leadership is 95% a state of mind and 5% application! Now, in that context these two concepts are perhaps the crux of your success or failure, and let me say they cut both ways. Equally of note, to define true “brotherhood” those I have asked used these two terms interchangeably.

Please allow me to paint a picture; recently I participated in a promotional board, not unlike others I have conducted, and in the process of helping an agency determine the best candidate for promotion a question was asked that shook the foundation of my moral being. Imagine if you will three professionals on one side of the table and one hopeful candidate on the other. Predetermined questions were fired at the first candidate and answers were given as one might expect. After the official experience had been given its due, one of my peers on the board posed a question that at first seemed routine, but inevitably took root in my simpletons’ brain. He offered, and I quote, “No explanation is necessary, please answer from your heart. Which is more important to you, honesty or loyalty?”

Holy co! Insert Mack truck here……What an amazing question! I know, I know, you are thinking that this big guy has gone off the deep end. Well perhaps, but I assure you that this is not where my train derailed. Stay with me for a minute and I assure you it will be worth it, or at the very least be entertaining.

As some 20 or so people came into the board that day, I sat and waited for each response to my colleague’s inquiry like a crackhead waiting for payday. First of all, I challenge any who read this article to answer that simple question without an explanation, I will offer that I find myself grossly incapable of doing so. Then, go a step further. Pose this question initially to your crew/shift/ bay floor. Watch the discussion fly! Now, if you are as amazed at the replies as I found myself, go yet a step further. Pose this question to your superiors!

Now, please don’t go hounding the chiefs to the point of dismissal. But wait for the appropriate time and place and in common conversation and feel free to throw me under the bus. Try something like, “Hey Chief, you know I read an article on Firehouse.com the other day and this jackass suggested that I ask you….” I grant you full rights and privileges to do exactly that, because I have learned what that one simple question can offer us all as insight and understanding of our culture, our peers, and our people in general. Now, fair warning be given – you have to be open minded and you have to listen.

In the interest of sharing, I will tell you the following:

  • There is no correct answer (I can hear a lot of people screaming at this one)
  • Those who answer the question truthfully will have an explanation
  • Some will say that the question sucks (It depends on… or…that is stupid)
  • The conversation will continue periodically throughout the shift/day
  • You will gain insight into the values and moral fabric of whomever answers
  • Remember that we all have different views
  • Don’t hold someone’s answer against them. Work with their answer to the collective benefit
  • You should compare your thoughts to every answer and be willing to adjust accordingly

In my conversations, the answers I have heard have reaffirmed my belief in some people’s strength of character, while others have caused me concern. I have heard answers like:

  • You can’t have one without the other
  • I’d rather someone be honest to me than loyal
  • I’d rather someone be loyal to me than honest
  • You can’t be honest or loyal all the time
  • You are loyal by being honest
  • You are honest by being loyal
  • Well, if this or if that, yada, yada, yada…               
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