Oh Captain, My Captain
This blog was originally written for Curious Lion. To see the original and to learn more about the Learning Culture consulting firm, click here.
The story of a ship, its crew and following their own North Star.
“Loyalty never goes unpunished. My father said that once when he was passed over for promotion at work and I’ve never forgotten it.”
– Clare Chambers, Learning To Swim
This line has stuck with me since I was 14 years old. It’s the first line of a book that I have read every year since then.
The captain of the ship that is Curious Lion, Mr. Andrew Barry, shared an article with our team on Slack a while ago. As I read the article, this line from one of my favorite books popped into my head as it so often does. While the line might not seem special, it got me wondering why.
Why would a line about loyalty or being passed up for a promotion stick with me for almost 25 years? After much thought and many lengthy tangents, I realized it’s the word unpunished that has never actually sat well with me.
Let me explain…
I’ve been passed up for promotions more times than I care to admit during the course of my career. Promises were made, hopes were raised, carrots were dangled…
I was strung along by the mere possibility of moving up, of the promises of greater responsibility and respect that come with rising up the ranks of a company (that’s what everyone wants, right? Promotions = success?)
A possibility made me work harder. It motivated me to go above and beyond, only to be sidelined at the end of the day. At the time, it crushed my spirit. It made me reevaluate my feelings on employee loyalty and commitment.
To me, the word ‘unpunished’ once described the frequency with which acts of loyalty backfire on those who offer them.
Thankfully, that was a long time ago. It’s not my reality anymore.
My definition of loyalty and success has evolved over the years. What was important to me when I first entered the workforce is wildly different from what is important to me today.
This evolution was only possible through reflection, working through my past experiences (and the lessons I learned from each of these), letting go of the trauma I experienced at previous companies and finally finding a place where I belong – here at Curious Lion.
I want to share my journey of discovery with you. But before I do, I have a confession to make. I don’t have a magic formula that explains how or why people are loyal to the companies they work for. I can only speak from my own experience.
Let’s first figure out what employee loyalty in the workplace actually means.
Defining Employee Loyalty
What is employee loyalty? It’s a concept that’s hard to define because it holds a different meaning for different people.
Here’s my take. If you look up the definition of loyalty, you’ll see that it’s listed as a noun.
I disagree – I think of it as more of a verb.
Loyalty isn’t a single action, it’s a series of actions that contribute to something you believe in. These actions lead to a feeling of pride in what your company represents. And this feeling has an incredible impact on what work you do and how you do it.
This leads me to the heart of how I think employee loyalty comes to be.
Shared Vision: A North Star
Did you know that Disneyland very nearly didn’t happen? (Tangent, yes – stick with me.)
Walt Disney was the visionary. His brother, Roy, was the finance guy.
In 1952, Walt had an incredibly ambitious idea of building a mammoth theme park. Roy was against the idea because it would cost an astronomical amount of money, which the company simply didn’t have.
Walt’s ‘screwy idea’ (as Roy described it) created a rift between the brothers for nearly 10 years. This rift finally came to a head when the reality of Walt leaving Disney became a very real possibility.
Reflecting on this potential outcome, Roy realized that neither Disney nor any of its employees would be where they were without Walt. Walt’s vision created a ‘spectacular world of make-believe,’ the likes of which had never been seen before.
It took a decade, but Roy finally saw the integral role Walt’s vision played in the company’s success.
So when Walt wanted to build an even more ambitious Disney World, Roy was 100% on board.
Roy’s sense of loyalty ran so deep that when Walt passed away from lung cancer in 1966, he spent the rest of his life completing Walt’s final vision and insisted it be called Walt Disney World.
This story is a powerful one for two reasons:
- A vision is like the light that helps you find your way in the dark.
- When you fail to clearly communicate your vision to those around you, they will never understand the ‘why’ that drives your actions. You fail to give people the opportunity to resonate with the purpose, which decreases your chances of getting them to help you build that vision.
Andrew Barry understands not only the power of vision, but the importance of communicating it.
Seeing the Light
When my boss tells me the story, shares the ‘why’ it’s important and what I’m working towards, I feel included and respected. By simply shining this light, I don’t feel in the dark.
This may not be true for some of you but when I hear the CEO of my company speak with undeniable passion about his vision, how I fit into the bigger picture and what I’m helping build, I feel a sense of pride and a drive to contribute to this vision.
I feel a connection to a shared purpose.
So, is communication the only magic ingredient that creates employee loyalty? Not quite. Like I said, loyalty is a verb, a series of actions.
To expand on this – loyalty is a series of actions made by the employer andthe employee.
In my quest to unravel the complicated knot that is company loyalty, I sat down and pinpointed the actions that contribute to why I feel the way I do about Curious Lion.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
At Curious Lion, we have a leadership team that is approachable, human and unafraid to show their vulnerabilities. They always have the bigger picture in mind and this image is rooted in learning.
In my mind, Andrew is synonymous with ‘potential’. He sees it in his team, in the organizations we help and in himself. When you distill the intention, the essence is unleashing potential – helping people through learning.
Here are a few factors that help create an environment for me to unleash the potential in people:
- There is no sense of ‘them’ and ‘us’ i.e. management and employees.
- We are all bound together by our North Star, each contributing in our own unique way to keep the ship on course.
- The concept of hierarchy has been traded in for team and community. Help and support is graciously given and received no matter who you are at the company.
- We are all valued, respected and appreciated for the knowledge and expertise we bring to the table.
- We are trusted to do our best work and we are supported every step of the way.
- Creativity is given its own space, which we’re given the freedom and encouragement to seek out and use in the most impactful way.
- Acknowledgement and praise are freely given for a job well done.
Every member of the team contributes to the processes upon which our company is built. We are asked for our input on a regular basis. It helps our captain to see the ship through the eyes of the crew and helps him navigate so we stay on course.
It also makes us feel like we’re building something together. We help plan the adventure we’re on together – which strengthens our shared purpose.
I am trusted to do my best work. There isn’t anyone looking over my shoulder or second-guessing my approach or execution. I am free to be creative, take risks and cast my net as far as I need to in order to find the inspiration I need.
I am given space and support so I can perform at my best.
4. Psychological Safety
I work in an environment where psychological safety is treated with the utmost importance. I feel safe sharing my thoughts, opinions, experiences and ideas with every person in the company.
From a brand new team member to the founder, every single person feels safe to show up as they are. Not once have I felt fearful that someone would judge or ridicule me for sharing any part of who I am.
Ours is a culture of learning, of community and fun. We may be littered across four different countries but our sense of community runs deep. The relationships between each of us is built on mutual respect, genuine affection and a passion for learning.
We hold team office hours meetings once a week where we can:
- Present on interesting learnings we’ve completed
- Talk through problems we’re experiencing in our projects so we can tackle it together, see it from different perspectives and find the best solution
- Make plans on how we can contribute to keeping our learning flywheel spinning
- Present or attend learning workshops once a month
We’re not all work and no play at Curious Lion! We like to have fun for the sake of having fun, together.
Getting to know each other outside of a work context is a priority for us. Our get-togethers are straight out of Alice in Wonderland:
- We meet twice a month for tea. Like the Hatter’s tea party, our meetings are utter chaos. We have trouble hearing each other over the peals of laughter but in the end we manage to exchange adventures, partake in general silliness, and fully embrace the fact that each of us is completely bonkers.
- Once a month, we have the opportunity to share the different rabbit holes each of us have fallen through head-first, in the form of a learning picnic. From the Michelin Star origin story to the tumultuous journey of the high-maintenance avocado, we sit enthralled by what’s gotten each of us curious that month. (We also sometimes just talk about the TV shows we’ve been watching.)
- Each of us is as curious as the hookah-smoking Caterpillar about each other. So, we hold a culture share once a month to learn a little about the different parts of Wonderland that we hail from.
Hanging out with your co-workers isn’t for everyone, but the more I get to know each of the people I work with, the more I’ve come to realize how similar we all actually are. Their crazy matches my crazy!
Creating connections with the team strengthens our relationships and creates a deeper level of understanding – and when we celebrate wins, we do so together, and I am genuinely happy to see each person succeed.
Our culture has created a home for a community of like-minded oddballs and word nerds who work together, play together and learn together. Our culture has given me a place, where for the very first time in my career, I feel like I belong.
All my reflections and ponderings have led me to this conclusion.
I could never be happy at a job that does not challenge or fulfill me. This stems from something that my dad instilled in his children: Treat the company you work for as though you own it.
I’ve learned that I can’t do this unless I’m connected to the work I’m doing. My loyalty to Curious Lion stems from a company vision that genuinely resonates with me and the connection I feel to our shared purpose:
To unleash human potential. To provide people with the tools and knowledge they need to transform into the best versions of themselves.
“Loyalty never goes unpunished…”
I’ve realized that employee loyalty isn’t a punishment or a reward; it’s a relationship where both parties put in the work to make it successful.
There is no single captain at Curious Lion. We’re all captains of this ship – each doing the work that needs to be done under the glow of the North Star that guides us. Each of us is invested in seeing the journey through while enjoying the ride together.
Never have I ever felt such a sense of trust working anywhere else. I have never felt as heard, or valued for my contributions. Never have I ever felt as supported or safe as I do amongst my team.
At Curious Lion, we believe that your vibe attracts your tribe. I’m happy to say that the vibes have aligned and I have finally found my tribe.