Building Bridges: How Leaders Grow Loyalty

Build your opponent a golden bridge to retreat across.
– Sun Tzu, Art of War

How do you grow loyalty?  Consider this story.

A marketing specialist was given her first major assignment to test market a new product.  She worked on the project diligently, giving it her best effort.

But when the results came in, she realized that she had made an error in setting up the test.  It would have to be done over again.

The problem was that there was no time to talk with her boss about it before the meeting when she was to report her findings.

At the meeting, she was nervous, feeling that she had failed and the boss would be mad.  When it came time for her report, she summoned her courage and simply stated that due to an error, she would have to re-run the test.  She promised results by the next meeting.

She sat back down, expecting her boss to explode.  But he didn’t.

One Way to Grow Loyalty

He remained calm.  He thanked her for her work.  He said that it was not unusual to encounter challenges when testing a new product.

As everyone listened, he expressed his confidence in her, and said he was sure that she would be able to produce good data at the next meeting.  And that was it.

She said she left the meeting with her head up and her pride intact.  She said that after that meeting, she was more determined than ever to never let her boss down again.

Her boss could have raked her over coals.  She was backed into a corner, surrounded, with no escape.  She braced for the verbal assault and humiliation that she expected would come.

Instead, he built her a bridge.  He gave her a graceful way out.  He helped her save face.

Building Golden Bridges

Warrior-Philosopher Sun Tzu talks about the importance of building a golden bridge for your opponent to retreat across.  He knew that anything cornered has no choice but to fight.

But he also knew that victory is not in the fighting, it’s in accomplishing what you set out to do.  If you are after the land, give your opponent an opportunity to get out of the way.

If you corner him he will resist, fight back.  He has nothing to lose.

The greatest victory is that which requires no battle. - Sun Tzu Click To Tweet

The same applies to those we lead.  Situations like this should not be about proving that you are right or demonstrating power over someone else.  Instead, think of them as a opportunity to build trust, to grow loyalty.

The next time you have someone cornered, pause a moment and think about the battle you are trying to win.

If they tried their best, what will shouting, threats, and power displays really accomplish?  Is fear and resentment the goal?

In the story, consider how much more dedicated the marketer will be in the future.

Want to grow loyalty?  The better approach might just be to build a bridge.

Lead on!

Credit: I adapted this story from Dale Carnegie’s classic How to Win Friends & Influence People


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About the Author: Ken Downer
Ken Downer - Founder RapidStart Leadership

Ken served for 26 years in the Infantry, retiring as a Colonel.  From leading patrols in the Korean DMZ, to parachuting into the jungles of Panama, to commanding a remote outpost on the Iran-Iraq border, he has learned a lot about leadership, and has a passion for sharing that knowledge with others.  Look for his weekly posts, check out his online courses, subscribe below, or simply connect, he loves to talk about this stuff.

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