I would have been surprised if the concept of loyalty was not emphasized in our ancient literature. After doing a little research I came across Chanakya's arthashastra which is an ancient Indian treatise on statecraft, economic policy and military strategy. Chanakya was a scholar at Takshashila and later the Prime Minister of Chandragupta, the fist Mauryan Emperor. Chanakya was considered a master in the field of economics and political science and is popularly known as India's Machiavelli. Arthashastra is believed to be written around 300BC and is believed to be the foundation of Indian political philosophy.
Chapter 1 of book 7 gives the guidance for appointing key advisors. Chanakya begins this chapter starting with summaries of what others have to say about the topic. The first source believes that the key positions should be filled by the king's classmates as the king knows them well and would be able to judge their abilities and trustworthiness and also because they would be loyal to the king because of their friendship with the king. This is the view which is prevalent in the corporate world today also. This view though is contradicted by another scholar because according to him the lifelong friends they have seen the king in almost all situations some of which possibly may be humiliating and thus they would be inappropriate ministers and advisors as they would always be able to insult the king and even blackmail him at times. According to him a king should appoint people who support his secret projects. These people would be driven by fear of the secret events being revealed and will remain loyal. I personally believe this concept to be really flawed as these people actually are not loyal and whatever loyalty they show is because of some reason and the day that reason does not hold true their loyalty would vaporize. But this concept is also flourishing in today's world in fields of political science, economics and international relations these days as a lot of relationships are built over fear where the stronger overpowers the helpless weaker partner. The most visible example of this concept is US's foreign relations with most of the countries. This concept is challenged by another scholar who believes that the fear is for both the parties. The advisors are afraid of the king because he knows their secrets but the king also fears his advisors as his secrets are also revealed to them. The moment he shares his secrets with his advisors he loses control over them and may become a puppet in their hands. The solution to this could be choosing people who have proved their loyalty before and have put forward their own lives for the safety of their king.
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Another scholar dismissed this concept altogether and points out that loyalty and ability are like chalk and cheese and they do not have anything to do with each other. According to him people in key positions should be chosen based on their record and abilities. According to him qualities such as ability, talent, knowledge etc are critical for efficient running of an empire and hence everything should depend on strict meritocracy. In today's competitive world meritocracy cannot be an isolated solution as the person may move to another organization if he is offered better terms, destabilizing your organization. Yet another scholar discounted loyalty and suggested that hereditary traditions are an excellent way of filling up key positions as they are familiar with working of the kingdom and are thus best suited to fill the role of key advisors. According to him these people are not tempted by rewards etc and are guided by noblesse oblige. This is pretty evident in Indian political scenario where an aging politician most of the time is replaced or joined by someone from his family and the so called tradition of serving the people remains within the family. Another scholar points out the flaw in this system by saying that these people create troubles for the king as they start believing that they are also entitled to certain privileges. This becomes problematic for the king as his intention is the welfare of people. According to him people should be selected from a pool of new and educated experts whose lack of prior history would ensure they continue to fear and respect the king. This view is countered by another scholar who believes that inexperienced people would panic in crisis situation when the king really requires their support thus a king should appoint loyal and wise people to key positions so that they can support him during the time of crisis.
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Finally Chanakya expresses his opinion. According to him all these views are appropriate in given situations and the king must decide based on the situation in which he is. According to him loyalty, steadiness, expertise, lack of experience etc are all useful. Chanakya then goes on describe the qualities that the prime minister (the most important official to the king should possess) and he states loyalty once again to be one of the most important quality that the prime minister should possess. So in today's competitive environment especially in the corporate world is loyalty the most important character a person should possess for him to occupy a key position.
What is the mechanism that a modern day organization usually uses to allot key positions to its employees? I would try and explain the mechanism through the process of succession planning. Succession planning is a continuous business process through which an organization plans for its future workforce needs. It is considered a proactive approach as you are planning for the future and is usually done for a few key positions in the organization. One may think why is succession planning needed or what are its benefits? Succession planning always turns out to be cost effective as it minimizes the risk associated with loss of leadership or specialized skills and knowledge. In order to succeed in today's competitive environment an organization must actively plan for the future as employees leave their organizations for a number of reasons. Thus if an organization can fill key positions without much trouble then they save themselves from experiencing unnecessary turmoil.
Now coming to how key positions are identified for any organization. For every organization key positions are those positions that are essential for an organization to function and if such positions are vacated tomorrow the organization will potentially stop operations. The key positions can vary from being functional, technical or managerial in nature. It is imperative for an organization to put right kind of people in such positions in the first place and also do succession planning to ensure that knowledge and skills stay in the organization when the person exits. A key position may also be held by a person from whom you seek expert, advice, ideas or guidance to tackle the issues you face. So if the position is of such importance adequate efforts should be put to choose the right person for the job and also succession planning should be done to remove the possibility of the chaos that may be created if the post is vacated.
So what are the essential qualities that one should possess to hold a key position in an organization? One of the essential requirements is competencies which are defined as the knowledge and skills required to carry out the functions associated with a particular key function. The competencies would vary from job to job for e.g. the competencies required for the post of CFO would be different from one's required for the post of the CEO. But should only knowledge and skills of a prospective candidate be checked while considering him for a key position? The answer is definitely No because there are certain characters which a person is expected to possess irrespective of the position he is looking forward to occupy. Qualities such as loyalty, honesty and integrity are as important as any of the other technical, managerial or functional knowledge or skill an individual possesses. Although all the 3 i.e. loyalty, honesty and integrity seem to be equally important but is loyalty the most essential among all of them? Would a loyal employee be the one who steps up to the plate in tough times? It is a natural tendency for any human being to stay around people he trusts and the same also applies to the workplace. Whether its friendship, romance or good relationships at work the key to their success is trust. One may admire a number of qualities in his/her partner but if they do not trust each other then the relationship would not last very long. Trust comes with loyalty and it is the only way people can be bound together in thriving relationships so does that mean an employee must be committed to his organization and the organization to its employees and this is the only way to foster success and pave way for positive growth?
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Let us assume that people are not loyal to each other. What would happen in a situation like this? Disloyalty leads to destruction and there have been numerous examples in the recent past to prove this fact. Companies such as Enron and Satyam were disloyal to their employees and they are a part of history now. A disloyal employee can cause serious damages to an organization if he offers the trade secrets of his organization to its rival for personal benefit. On a broader level if disloyalty is the order of the day nations would fall part. Let us take example of Rome for instance. When Roman Empire was earning its glory its soldiers were best in the world mostly made out of roman citizens who had volunteered to serve their country. As the kingdom expanded more soldiers were inducted into the army from the conquered nations. These soldiers lacked loyalty to the Roman Empire and they were motivated by other factors such as pay as a result of which the army's strength started declining and the Romans slowly started losing their foothold and thus were overthrown. So can we use a similar analogy to say that a loyal employee is an organization's biggest asset? If we believe in this notion then the fact that most of the top positions in an organization goes to its most loyal employees would not come as a surprise. If we see any of the big business houses of India such as Reliance or Tata we would see that all the top positions in those organizations are filled by trusted aides of Mukesh Ambani or Ratan Tata. They are classmates, relatives, friends, neighbours of the family or are employees that have served the organization for a long time. Although they may not be the best in whatever they do but they possess one quality that makes them precious to the organization and that is their loyalty towards the organization.
Is loyalty required at every level? Suppose I am personally responsible to deliver something and I need help from someone else for it than who should I approach? My most trusted friend or somebody who is exceptional at the job? For example 10 years down the line I would like to become an entrepreneur and open my own HR consulting firm. When I look for people, should I look for people who would show commitment towards me and my organization and try to induct people with whom I worked before and who I believe would be loyal to me? Or should I give importance to the ability of the person because loyalty alone may not guarantee me success? What loyalty may ensure is that my organization is in right hands and even if something goes wrong people would not turn their back on me. What ability would ensure is that my organization is actually making progress. So is a proper blend of loyalty and ability the answer to my needs?
The million dollar question is the concept of loyalty hold true in today's world? Recent events in business world have made it more difficult for loyalty to prosper. Cases such as Arthur Anderson, Tyco, World Com, Satyam have left the workforce with a very cynical view of the management as according to them management ignore ethics to improve their bottom line and the biggest sufferer because of this are the poor employees who had no idea of what had been happening in their organization. Economic factors such as recession have led to cost cutting and layoffs that has again pushed employee loyalty to a new low. Downsizing has not been handled well by most of the organization and it creates a fear in the mind of the rest of the employees that anytime soon the axe may fall on them as well. The younger workforce when sees that employees that have been loyal to the organization for years were laid off without proper justification start believing that loyalty is a thing of past and this concept does not exist in this world anymore. The nature of relationship between employees and employers has also changed. Gone are those days where people would work for decades in the same organization and the whole idea of loyalty to a single organization seems like a thing from past but then again they do not want to keep shifting every second year for the rest of their careers. If we consider the employer's perspective the organization would stop functioning if a large portion of workforce is to be replaced every year. So organizations would be able to achieve the skills and expertise they require to compete only if they rethink and redefine loyalty and provide development opportunities to their employees as per the employees demand. Loyalty should not be always looked as a proposition. Although experts may believe that an employee's loyalty towards an organization and what it stands for goes in a great way towards him producing his best work but employees may give their best while furthering their own careers. Thus if the skills the person learns to further his career match with the company needs then both of these can go along together. Thus it is clear that if an organization helps an employee in acquiring a new skill and support their career advancement they would win his commitment. Thus the organization should help its employees in growing out of their current jobs into new jobs within their organization. So does this mean that the talent which has left the company was not loyal? It is very difficult to be loyal to a person for life. It is more like dating i.e. you would be faithful to a person you are currently dating while you are involved with him and this does not stop you from moving on and dating someone else. Thus organizations should not make an effort to keep all the employees for life. The relationship should only last for the while when both the parties are benefiting.