VP of Operations
The Shelby Group
We hear time and again that women are so loyal it can get in the way. In our research interviews, many women talked about the intense internal struggle they face when presented with a great career opportunity. We hear a laundry list of internal roadblocks: I feel guilty leaving my boss, abandoning my team, “jumping ship”, appearing ungrateful or mercenary, and leaving before my work is done (whenever that is). Women cite recent promotions or raises or accommodations that make them feel they owe it to their manager to stay. In addition to forgoing opportunities, disappointment sets in when we expect to be rewarded for sticking around.
Loyalty is an important quality and is part of what makes us reliable, trustworthy team players. All relationships, including employer/employee relationships, are two-way streets that will naturally ebb and flow over time. Some days you give and some days you get, and it is reassuring to be able to count on each other. However, unchecked loyalty upsets the balance critical for healthy relationships and hinders rational decision-making.
Lisa Norman, VP of Operations at The Shelby Group, recounts invaluable advice her dad gave her as a young professional, passing on guidance he received early in his career at GE. “Working is a contract. You work and they pay. On payday you’re even.” He was not encouraging her to take advantage of her employer or to be ruthless and self-centered. He was encouraging her to develop a healthy sense of her own self-worth, to focus on continuing to make herself valuable, and to maintain realistic expectations of what she owes her employer and what they owe her. We set ourselves up for disenchantment when we anticipate what we’re owed in return for our loyalty or expect more than was promised.
One woman shared that she hesitated to accept an opportunity in another department that would vastly broaden her experience base. She found it difficult to overcome the guilt of leaving her current team until she reframed it for herself. She recognized that while making the move would in fact leave a temporary hole on her existing team, declining the offer would deny her future team all the benefits she knew she could provide. She reminded herself that while she was a strong contributor, the team would neither fold nor suffer long-term damage from her departure. In fact, it was likely her move would create significant opportunities for others. This reframing was an honest yet more positive perspective that helped her seize an important opportunity. Her old team was sad to see her go but congratulated her on her good fortune and commended the career move. She admitted that if she had rejected the opportunity she would have felt her team “owed her” for staying. She now understands her team never expected her to stay put simply out of loyalty and, in fact, would have questioned her judgment.
Challenge yourself to find a healthy balance between selflessness and selfishness. Avoid letting an exaggerated sense of loyalty unfairly hold you back and make sure you’re not using loyalty as an excuse to avoid an intimidating challenge. No one wins when you hold yourself back from all you can accomplish. Like Lisa, learn to be loyal to your employer and loyal to yourself! Everyone will ultimately win.
As VP of Operations for The Shelby Group, a Procurement Optimization consulting partner (www.theshelbygroup.com), Lisa oversees Finance, Human Resources, Program Management, Recruiting, Administration, Marketing, Training and Performance Management. She continues to embrace her dad’s advice. Lisa knows that she is most valuable to her employer when she is there because she consciously believes it is the right place for her to be and the partnership is mutually beneficial.