The Loyalty Switch:
How to Make Anyone Loyal to You, Your Organization, or Your Cause

Loyalty is a key ingredient of success in any enterprise, especially state government. But today’s divisive politics and competing agendas create barriers to loyalty that can sabotage the best intentions of state legislators. Management Consultant James Kane offered a model of how to build and maintain loyalty in virtually every relationship.

“Legislators are constantly challenged with building loyalty. You need to persuade people to vote for you in elections or with you in your chambers,” Mr. Kane said. Leveraging insights from neuroscience, Mr. Kane articulated a model for how the human brain seeks patterns to determine loyalty. His presentation focused on the question, “What do I need to do to build loyal relationships?”

In this model, relationships fall into 1 of 4 levels:

1. Antagonistic relationships seethe with dislike or hostility. Because we are social animals, and antagonistic relationships can be quite vocal. “if I can’t get along with you, “Mr. Kane said, “I want everyone to know loud and clear how I feel. I want you to get kicked out of the social unit–not me. I don’t want to feel that I am wrong.”

2. Transactional relationships are based on an exchange. “You did something for me. I repaid you. It’s over. You just did your job. Don’t expect more from me. I don’t owe you anything.”

3. Predisposed relationships form among allies. They like you, they like things the way they are, and they are not anxious for things to change. The relationship is tenuous and, if you do change direction on something, they can abandon you. The relationship is over. They may be predisposed to vote for or with you until some unknown reason takes them in a different direction. An example of this random change of allegiance could be, “I just want to elect an outsider.”

4. Loyalty is never measured by price or ability. We are loyal to those people who are indispensable in our lives, who always have our best interests at heart, who make our lives better or easier, and who we trust unconditionally as partners and advisers.

Satisfaction vs Loyalty

Mr. Kane differentiated between satisfaction and loyalty. “Satisfaction is a mood; it is about the past; it is about what you do for the other person. Your constituents may be satisfied by what you do, but they don’t love you. They have their own lives and agendas. They may be satisfied, but that does not mean they are loyal. Loyalty, on the other hand, is a behavior that is focused on the future and it is about what they will do for you.” Dogs are loyal, but cats are satisfied, Mr. Kane remarked.

Where Did Loyalty Come From?

Loyalty has been evolving in human society for a hundred thousand years, Mr. Kane said. It grew out of the human need to live in communities in order to survive. Humans are weak creatures with limited defense mechanisms. How did we become so powerful to dominate and populate the world?

Two things gave humans a survival advantage. First, we are the only species to live in large social groups with strangers. Other community-living species such as ants or bees are related; they are kin. We had to learn to discriminate who to trust, and who would have our back. Second, humans are dependent for far longer than other species. We have to depend on other human beings for decades or we die. Animals have instincts while humans have emotions, Mr. Kane said. Loneliness has not evolved out of humans because it serves as a built-in protection to keep us socially connected.

Loyalty is instinctual; it is in our DNA. There are triggers or signals in our brains that tell us who we can trust. We recognize certain behaviors in others that tell us it is safe to be loyal to that person and that our relationship with them will make our lives safer, easier, and better.

Building Loyalty

The brain asks three questions about a relationship: does this person make my life safer? Easier? Better? Mr. Kane noted that legislators don’t score any loyalty points for making their constituents’ lives safer or easier. That is simply assumed to be the legislator’s job.

Making lives better is where loyalty develops. Loyalty is based on 3 building blocks: a sense of trust, of belonging, and of purpose, Mr. Kane observed.


Trust is the bedrock of a loyal relationship, Mr. Kane noted. People expect you to be trustworthy. But loyalty also requires:

Competency—that you can do what you say you can do and what the relationship expects you to do.

Character—that you are honest, moral, and ethical.

Consistency—that your actions are predictable and unwavering and that you can be counted on to behave in a consistent and dependable manner.

Capacity—that you have enough resources (time, money, energy, influence) to address the needs of your relationships. This is not about personal needs, Mr. Kane pointed out, but about depending on you to do what they elected you to do.


A sense of belonging grows out of being recognized as a unique individual with specific interests, hopes, fears, and challenges. Belonging arises when you know the people so well that you can be proactive in helping them solve problems before they knew they had them or asked for help.

Belonging is conveyed when people feel included, that they are safe in the group, and that someone has their back. Knowledge is shared. Finally, belonging arises from a sense of identity, finding people we gravitate toward whose values, choices, and lives are familiar. We identify with those who believe what we believe in, who want the same outcomes that we want.

“We seek out those who can help us make a difference in our own lives and in the lives of others. We personally don’t have the time and resources to achieve all the changes we’d like to see, so we look for relationships that can help make this happen,” Mr. Kane said. People are loyal to those individuals and organizations that are influencing social changes they care about.


According to Mr. Kane’s model, a clearly understood purpose can link management and employees—or legislators and constituents—in a natural, unforced, and highly productive relationship. With common purpose, people will act with conviction and self-determination. When purpose coincides with capabilities, the path to success is open.

A sense of purpose arises from a shared vision of the future and commitment to a greater cause. This sense of fellowship is a key ingredient, and your constituents will ask “Is your involvement in an activity for the greater good or only for your own good?” A sense of purpose requires that your colleagues believe that you are authentic, that you are deeply committed to the cause and values you claim to support.

The Relationship Continuum

Don’t try to make every relationship loyal, Mr. Kane advised. Identify the most critical relationships that are strategic to your goals and identify whether they are hostile, transactional, predisposed, or loyal. Focus on those people in whom the value of the relationship is high but you haven’t yet earned their loyalty. His advice could be represented as:

The Relationship Continuum


Sen. Eduardo Bhatia (PR): In the US Congress, one side cannot trust the other. This has deteriorated Congress’s ability to make leadership decisions. What advice would you give them on how to reconcile these differences and find trust among themselves?

Mr. Kane: Let’s apply neuroscience to this problem in politics. There are specific drivers for this conflict. In our society, nationalism as a source of identity is no longer compelling. People live global lives as a result of the Internet and television, as well as travel and migration, which bring people of all nations in contact with one another. We have less national identity.

As the churches continue to lose membership, religion is no longer a source of identity.

This leaves politics as a place where people are finding identity. They want to see things as black and white with no shades of gray. They don’t want a nebulous gray identity. They see polarizing figures in politics and say, “I’m with them.” Polarizing politics is about angry partisanship, forcing individuals to pick sides based on simplistic labels.

Sen. Teresa Paiva Weed (RI): What are some good examples of elected officials engendering loyalty. We already work diligently to engage the public to participate. We send out information and hold town-hall meetings. What else can be done?

Mr. Kane: In the past, we just used to get along—life was full of other sources of identity, and politics just took care of itself. Now, politics is a sport, a media entertainment. The media makes money by stirring up fights and controversy. Today, people want to be included in the political process. The Internet, through sites like Yelp that encourage individuals to post personal reviews, has created an expectation that every person’s opinion counts. People want to be included, so include them by giving them tasks that align with their interests. Assign an outlet for their energy. Steer them to where they can have an impact on a board or council or outside organization. Then, they will become a filter, bringing information back to you.

Sen. Wayne Niederhauser (UT): In the old days, loyalty was about being faithful even when times are tough. Now, you define loyalty as requiring trust, competence, character, and capacity. It’s much more complicated.

Mr. Kane: People decide on loyalty based on the outcomes they observe. They identify a loyal relationship as one that helps them, that provides opportunities, includes forgiveness, and is consistent. By meeting the hurdles of trust, belonging, and purpose, you earn loyal relationships. At the top of their list, every legislator should have the clear intent that “Voters trust and respect us.”

A hallmark of the Senate Presidents’ Forum is the opportunity to exchange ideas in an informal setting. Sen. Wayne Niederhauser (UT), Sen. Troy Frazier (TX), and Sen. Rich Wardner (ND) have gotten to know one another at the Forum and  posed together between Forum sessions.

Speaker Biographies

James Kane

James has worked with every major industry, while advising and training organizations ranging from Global 1000 giants to small, regional companies, non-profits, and professional associations. As one of the most quoted and profiled authorities on loyalty in the traditional mainstream media, as well as niche publications, industry newsletters, and the blogosphere, James has been profiled and quoted in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, TIME Magazine, the BBC, and numerous other global and industry publications. He is a frequent guest on CNN, CNBC and FOX Business. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, James has served as a guest instructor at Harvard University and The Pennsylvania State University.

Other New Media & Government articles:

James Kane

Management Consultant

“Loyal relationships never leave you, give you opportunities, forgive you when you make mistakes, and become vocal advocates and supporters without being asked.”

We recognize certain behaviors in others that tell us it is safe to be loyal to that person, and that our relationship with them will make our lives safer, easier, and better.

Loyalty is based on 3 building blocks: trust, belonging, and purpose.

Loyalty requires trust but also:

• Competency

• Character

• Consistency

• Capacity

A sense of belonging arises when people experience:

• Recognition

• Insight

• Proactivity

• Inclusion

• Identity

A sense of purpose grows from:

• Shared vision

• Fellowship

• Commitment

Sen. Eduardo Bhatia

Sen. Teresa Paiva Weed

Sen. Wayne Niederhauser

At the top of their list, every legislator should have the clear intent that “Voters trust and respect us.”

James Kane

Senate Presidents’ Forum

Phone: 914.693.1818

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