Loyalty and Leadership
A Conversation with Jane Willhite
By John Milton Fogg

All of us were meant to be happy and successful. Life is more than a two week vacation once a year. It is, and can be, exactly what you want it to be. There are no limits except those you put on yourself."

-- Tom and Jane Willhite

 

Jane co-created PSI Seminars with her husband Tom, back in 1973. Tragically, 10 years later, Tom died when his stunt plane crashed at High Valley Ranch, a working 1700-acre cattle ranch that serves as the headquarters of PSI Seminars. He was 43 years old. Since that time, Jane has carried on their pioneering self-development work. Today, PSI offers four seminars for adults, two classes for children, a one-week Teen Camp, and a 90-day concept integration program. You can learn more about Jane Willhite and PSI Seminars on the web at www.psiseminars.com.

-- JMF

Jane, your company, PSI Seminars, has worked with all kinds of groups--leadership groups, corporate executives, camps for teenagers--and you're all around the world, from Japan to Canada and throughout the United States. What have you observed, in all of these different environments and with all these different kinds of people, about the role that loyalty plays in our life and our work?

That's a big question. You can't help observing that with all these variables, it seems to come down to something awfully simple: some people have loyalty and some don't! As I think about it, it occurs to me that loyalty is a choice. You choose to be loyal or you choose to be disloyal. It's not something you're born with; it's a choice, every day. Being loyal, or having the characteristic of loyalty, has to be something that is important to you. To some people, loyalty is not all that important, while to others, it is all-important.

I looked up the word "loyalty" in my dictionary, and the definition I found was, "a devoted attachment." At first, I didn't particularly like that definition! But then I thought, well, my loyalties lie with my family; then I started to feel better about it, because loyalty is a quality which does attach to an object--you have loyalty to a particular cause, or to a particular person or ideal--and I think that yes, that is a form of devoted attachment.

 

Do we want to be that kind of devotedly attached to people?

You don't have to be. That's why I say it's a choice. There are some people who like to be devotedly attached. Do you want to have somebody in your corner, somebody whom you can count on? If so, then that person would be "devotedly attached" to you.

Another way of seeing this is that we are devotedly attached to our children--that may be the highest form of loyalty.

 

Jane, my dictionary has some different definitions; let's see what you do with these two. "Loyal: (1) steadfast in allegiance to one's homeland, government, or sovereign; (2) faithful to a person, an ideal, a custom, a cause, or a duty." Does that change it for you a little?

Not really. I think that as human beings, we have to take a look at how loyal we want to be. Things have shifted in the world. Over the years, we have seen people being dedicatedly loyal, at times, to their own detriment, even at their own peril. As we grow up, we start to look at loyalty and make choices on those loyalty issues.

 

In the philosophy behind the PSI seminars, do you want or teach people to be loyal to certain things or ideals?

No, not at all. People should decide these things for themselves.

 

So to have people faithful to, for instance, the notion of integrity, that's not what you want?

If that works for them. You see, most of the time it does work for them--but I don't think that we can say, "You need to be loyal to integrity." For that matter, I wouldn't be loyal to integrity, either--I don't see integrity and loyalty as connected. Loyalty is not a do; loyalty is more of a be.

 

Can you say more about that?

It is in you or it isn't.

 

Can you say more about what you mean by, "loyalty is more of a be"?

You can't go out and "do" loyalty. You are either being loyal or you are being disloyal. There's no in between. Loyalty is a stand we take and taking that stand is the choice we make. We choose every day to whom and to what we are going to be loyal, or disloyal. That is a choice as well.

loy-al-ty: a devoted attachment
loy-al: (1) Steadfast in allegiance to one's homeland, goverment, or severeign; (2) faithyful to a person, an ideal, a custom, a cause, or a duty

What is it that creates loyalty in an organization or in a relationship?

Loyalty begets loyalty. When you are loyal to your people and take care of them, they become loyal to you. This is particularly true in corporate life. People need to feel they belong to something worthwhile, something they're proud of; they need to feel their financial goals are met and may be exceeded and that they are recognized for their accomplishments. In this way, loyalty to your people makes it very easy for them to be loyal to you.

Elbert Hubbard said it beautifully: When you work for a person or organization, speak highly of them; speak well of them--stand by the institution you represent. Hubbard said, if you must whine or complain (these are not his exact words!), quit--and then you can complain to your heart's content. But as long as you are a part of the institution, stand by what it represents.

I think that when you are in a commitment, when you're loyal to someone, you need to be in that commitment 100 percent, which is to say, be 100 percent loyal.

My best friend runs our company as its president. We have been friends for over 40 years; through marriages, deaths, kids' successes, everything. I have committed my loyalty to her and her family and that will stand until the day I die. That depth of commitment is the key to keeping friendships, marriages and organizations flourishing. Loyalty is one of the great virtues. Being loyal is living up to one of the best parts of you.

I think loyal people get the best of the best. Loyalty causes a much better self-image. It allows people to grow more in their lives because they're not constantly put upon by guilt and self-hatred. Loyalty is one of those traits up there with commitment and integrity; it's one of the highest ideals there is.

 

Jane, what do we do when there is someone or some group that we're loyal to, but we really disagree with them, or our values are truly in conflict?

That happens, yes: we're loyal to something and then discover that our ideals are not the same, that we're not congruent, we're not on the same path. At that point, you have to make a choice: to open your mouth and talk about it, talk to the people in charge, and if that doesn't make the changes you need in order to become congruent with the group, then it may be time to consider whether you need to make the choice to leave. Sometimes you have to change yourself and move away from the organization. This can be difficult, but if you give up on your ideals, something in you dies. We've all known people who've given up; they tend to lead lives of anger, disappointment and frustration.

 

How do I deal with this in the context of being a citizen of the United States? I'm loyal to the country, and yet the country might do some things that I just don't like, that are really against my principles, my values. Do I have to move?

No, I don't think you have to move--but I think in the case you describe, you need to do everything you can to try and change things so that you can become more congruent with the group--in this case, your country. That may mean writing to your Congressmen, joining a march or running for office yourself--it means doing whatever you have to do to change it. I think the United States is wonderful. It does much more right than wrong. And our Constitution guarantees that we can make changes.

During the 30 years I've headed PSI Seminars, there have been a lot of people who disagreed with my leadership. I've always respected the ones who were forthright and told me directly about their concerns. That shows a strong sense of loyalty. But employees who took a paycheck and complained about everything were in my mind being disloyal.

 

Let's say we're in an organization, working with a team, even in a relationship, and we consider ourselves to be really loyal people, and yet we've got a fundamental disagreement going on. How do we handle that?

I think it's a matter of communication. The first thing I would suggest is that people get together and communicate both sides of the situation. Sometimes it looks like people are being disloyal, but if you hear it from their viewpoint, they're really not.

 

Jane, can you help us with some ways to hear it from that other point of view?

I have friends to whom I've been loyal for years; we have disagreed on two or three occasions over the years, but that hasn't affected how we treat one another. When we have a problem, we talk about it. We voice our disagreement or displeasure and come to reasonable solutions between us. It never affects our loyalty, one to the other. I think that's a mature way of doing things.

For me the easiest way to create communication is to drop me a note or a letter. Like most people, if someone gets in my face with a problem they're having, particularly if they're emotional about it, I get defensive and don't hear what they're saying. But when I get a letter from someone, I can read it without having to go through that process of being defensive; I read and really try to understand what the person is saying, then we can sit down and have a productive talk.

 

What would that letter look like, Jane?

"Hi JC, I'm having a little problem with something. I'm trying to see your viewpoint on this, and I can't see it. Here is my viewpoint on it.... Could we talk?"

 

Can all issues of disloyalty be pinned on communication?

I would say, 98 percent of them can.

 

So, would it follow that somebody, somewhere isn't telling the truth?

No, I don't think so. It's like the two sides of the Coke can. Mine says "Coke"--and yours lists all the ingredients. They're both describing the same thing, but they sure don't look like it!

We might say there's a lack of loyalty when someone has been betrayed--but then, being betrayed may be only a viewpoint. So now we get a little deeper--but that goes into whether I'm thinking you're disloyal because you're not true to what I want, instead of stepping back and respecting what you're loyal to and what you want. Sometimes we get our noses out of joint when people don't blindly follow and do what we want them to. If we could just sit and talk, the problem becomes clear and usually disappears.

Unless of course, somebody's actually stealing from you. Let's say there's a networking spin-off, and someone proselytizes a bunch of your people, picks them up and moves them over; they still have their viewpoint and can justify their actions, I suppose. But for me, disloyalty isn't something one can justify in any way. You're either loyal or you're not.

 

Jane, you said earlier that loyalty comes from how you treat people. What are the ways that you treat people that engender loyalty, that make loyalty flow naturally?

Caring is number one--caring about a person's goals, about their family, about their life; caring sets up loyalty. I am loyal to the employees and the people in my life and I also care about them.

Treat people the way you want to be treated and you will automatically get loyalty. I don't think there's anything more to it than that: put people first, be of service to them.

When you're invested in your employees, really helping them create a great life, loyalty is the automatic response.

 

What's a great way to go about learning those kinds of things about people?

I think it's important to know about the lives of everyone with whom you are working directly. You should know about their goals, about whether they have children and what ages they are...you have to be in their life at least a little bit, because that sets up a kind of commitment together, a partnership. I'm not loyal to every single person who walks on the earth: I am loyal to those people that I've made a commitment to be loyal to.

 

Have you seen some really stellar examples of loyalty that you can point to, along with what kinds of things have been created as a result?

I think PSI is a good example. After my husband died 20 years ago, it was because of the loyalty the people had to PSI and its teachings, to what PSI was all about, that PSI was able to continue. It wasn't about me. I had a whole bunch of people who were absolutely loyal to the ideals of this organization and were ready to do anything they could to see it continue.

You can find this in places and in groups the world over. Take a look at the non-profits out there. Many are building homes and orphanages and offering people all sorts of help and education, these are all forms of loyalty to a cause--a kind of loyalty that is an absolutely awesome testament to the human spirit.

 

Isn't it also true that, to a great extent, dedication to cause and service filters down from the top? And if so, doesn't it follow that the people who are loyal to PSI remain so because you perpetuated what Tom was all about--and Tom was the leader of the company until he passed away?

Tom and I created a partnership with people based on the ideals PSI was founded upon. Even with Tom gone, we remained loyal to those
ideals .

If all companies only understood that--that if they created a place where people could have fun, where they felt they were part of something, that others know their name, know where they're from, know if they have kids...then they would create a situation in which people would become dedicated to the "cause" that company represents.

 

Jane, you spoke of being loyal to the ideals of PSI. Can you highlight a few of the ideals that you think really engender people's loyalty--ideals that are worthy of being loyal to?

I don't think people are loyal to ideals so much as they are loyal to the results of those ideals. As people go through the seminars, their lives get better. They make more money. They have better relationships. They get healthier. They get happier. They get more peaceful.

I think people are loyal to the idea of making a better world, of creating peace in our lifetime. They're loyal to that and to the results that happen from the seminars, rather than to any particular thought process or concept.

 

Is there anything you'd like to add?

I said before that I think some people are loyal, and others are not. I would add that I believe those people who are not loyal have been often betrayed themselves, or perhaps, have been profoundly disillusioned at some point, and they are afraid of being hurt again.

If as employers and as leaders we can create a safe space for these people to be loyal to something--to be loyal to themselves, to their integrity, honesty and commitment--then we can create a context within which they can regain that ability to feel loyalty.

As leaders in this day and age, we have to be stronger in integrity, commitment and loyalty than ever before, because we see that in the world outside ourselves, every place we look, those qualities are dwindling, that kind of world is in the process of being dismantled.

As leaders, at this time in our history, we have the job of leading people into that place of renewing and reestablishing the values of loyalty, integrity and commitment.