A virtue worth keeping

April 14, 2021

Recently I had the opportunity to speak with a professional in the ICT industry whom I’ve gotten to know a little bit by working together on some projects over the past few years. In this eye-opening conversation I learned this individual, who is well-respected and whose name would be recognized by many, is in a difficult spot professionally. Their employer continues to grind them for increased productivity without offering a path for upward mobility and without an appropriate compensation increase. This person expressed to me, with a notable sense of despair, that their loyalty has worked to their disadvantage. Loyalty, it seems, is a fool’s virtue.

The answer seems simple. Don’t be a fool. That is, don’t be loyal to an employer. And don’t wait for that employer to prove their disloyalty to you before you become disloyal to them. Look out for number one, always. We all know plenty of people who embrace that attitude. Several people I’ve encountered in my career, for whom I have a great deal of respect, embrace it and have had much professional success. But the world is an interesting place because of the variegated personalities in it, and that’s also true of our industry. It takes all kinds of people to make up a culture.

And I think for a moment about the types of people who might find themselves in my friend’s difficult situation. Who holds on to an ideal for a little longer than it’s wise to do so? Who continues to believe in someone, or something, when logic tells them they probably shouldn’t? Who feels a sense of obligation to contribute to something larger than oneself? Or to continue making an effort, that sometimes feels thankless, because several others directly benefit from that effort, and many more indirectly benefit from it? Who does that? Many do. And I dare say that type of attitude or personality can be found in the volunteer groups, committees, and organizations that enhance the ICT profession daily. They’re among the people who put immeasurable effort into producing the standards, manuals, and educational material that serve as the foundation for much of the work that gets done on an ICT project.

For many, that spirit of loyalty and giving is etched deep into the personality. And yes, there will be times when that trait will manifest in a person treating another person, or an organization, or maybe even an employer, better than is deserved.

As an unabashed nerd, I can’t resist quoting Shakespeare. In Hamlet, the character Polonius says, “This above all: To thine own self be true.” Many interpret that as a statement against loyalty, amounting to the attitude, “Take care of yourself; forget others.” I disagree. To me, the word “true” in that quote is critical. Be true to yourself. Be authentic. If your authentic self is loyal, and you suffer the slings and arrows of that loyalty like my friend is enduring right now, then I hope you take heart in knowing that world needs more, not fewer, people like you.



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