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Marty Linsky
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Marty Linsky

Co-founder of the leadership-focused consulting firm, Cambridge Leadership Associates, Marty Linsky teaches at the Harvard Kennedy School, co-authors the advice column, Leadership House Call and blogs at Linsky on Leadership .

Loyalty, Schmoyalty

Loyalty is vastly overrated as an enduring value. Like transparency, it is on everyone's list of good things to believe in. But, like transparency, you never know how much you believe in it until it comes into conflict with something else you believe in.

Van Jones was going to be a continuing diversion for the administration during a critical week when health care had to be their laser-like focus. At another time, he might have survived. We've seen this before -- with President Clinton and Lani Guinier. And from the president himself. When Reverend Wright was threatening to sidetrack the presidential campaign, they threw him overboard despite his deep personal connection to the Obamas. As Michael Corleone said in The Godfather, "It's not personal, it's just business."

Sure, his resignation sends a message: 'If there is something in your background that might sidetrack our administration's key priorities, let us know about it before you are hired and even if you do, or if we check and do not find it before hiring you and then it becomes a problem, or even if we check and do find it and it then becomes a problem, we might have to let you go anyway. No one is indispensable."

Loyalty is a completely different issue when individuals stick their necks out on your behalf or on behalf of your priorities and then, as a result of what they do for you, they get in trouble. Van Jones got the administration in trouble at a sensitive moment for things he said before he came to work in Washington. There are plenty of other people who can do fabulous work on green jobs. He had to go and, in leadership terms, for the president to keep him would have been somewhere between gratuitous masochism and pandering to constituents who are already on the team.

By Marty Linsky

 |  September 10, 2009; 1:30 PM ET
Category:  Making mistakes Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Loyalty does go both ways, and in this case the loyal thing to do is to resign. It became clear that Mr. Jones was providing unnecessary fodder for Mr. Beck's television show. That distraction is unnecessary. Unfortunately the incident validates Mr. Beck and his deplorable techniques. So Mr. Jones, thanks for your service but you've worn out your welcome.

This is, by the way, a different scenario than the typical corporate setting. I agree that corporations are far too willing to get rid of employees who have shown great loyalty. And I believe that happens at greater cost to the company that many believe. You need look no further than the problems with Circuit City.

But governmental politics are much different, in that the goal is to advance the agenda. And that's everyone's goal, for those who are political appointees. Given the present extremely hostile and racist agenda of the far right, and the disproportionate impact of their activities, the Obama administration had few options.

Posted by: PGR1 | September 14, 2009 1:03 PM
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"Loyalty is vastly overrated as an enduring value."

+++++++++++++++++++++++++

Congratulations, sir, you have just defined corporate America in one sentence.

Loyalty up is demanded as a right by employers.

Loyalty down to those employees is routinely denied by these same employers.

One presumes your next definition will be the word "honour".

Posted by: rmlwj1 | September 14, 2009 11:03 AM
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Party Loyalty above all else?!!

Posted by: vigor | September 14, 2009 10:43 AM
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Spoken like a true liberal and a believer in moral equivalence. I hope your friends know this about you, for their sake.

Posted by: carlbatey | September 14, 2009 10:36 AM
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Your right,

Somebody is going to get a phone call,
and they'll have choice on "whether" to claim ignorance.

Posted by: James210 | September 14, 2009 8:05 AM
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