Loyalty versus Competence

I still remember that, during a management course, the trainer made a vivid comparison between the “apostle” and the “mercenary” – as opposite attitudes of employees versus their employer. What struck me the most in this theatrical approach was the obvious and overwhelming negative bias against the latter for his lack of loyalty to the company that hired him.

It made me think: What is wrong with mercenaries in general and why are they still considered outcasts?  Is loyalty always better than competence?

Going back to history I could see between the lines of official annals that every now and then battles were also won with the contribution from anonymous mercenaries fighting next to patriots.  However not many details were ever provided – probably from the embarrassment of the victors who didn’t feel like sharing the laurels.

Now why do ordinary people refuse to acknowledge the contribution of the “non patriotic” services they chose to pay for?  Would that imply that their own skills or might were not sufficient to secure the victory?  Would this acknowledgment of “outsourced” services cast a public humiliation if the podium of glory was shared?

I’m like this mercenary actor going from show to show – people love to hire me, but then don’t want me around much.

Sebastian Roche





If we leave military history behind and use the definition for mercenaries as “talents for hire” it seems we are all invaded and surrounded by armies of mercenaries.  For instance, think about:

  • Professional athletes
  • Consultants
  • Top specialists
  • Guest speakers and lecturers
  • Lawyers
  • Members of various boards
  • Entertainers
  • Scientists and inventors
  • Crisis/change managers

Yes, they may have something in common:

Money, money, money! I think about money morning, noon and night! I dare say it’s mercenary of me, but there it is.

Agatha Christie





However they also share special talents, skills, or knowledge that are both valuable and unavailable to the paying customer.

Wait!  There is something more: they all take huge personal and professional pride in the results they accomplish.  This pride keeps them going even if many times their contribution may still be kept away from publicity or even ignored.  The mission they are assigned to do is their sole focus and they know that only results matter.

They feed on success and they go for the private financial gain – all while helping the “loyalists” reach unattainable horizons.  Is this so bad?

In my book, you cannot be a mercenary if you are not valuable and much better than others.  Let’s face it: there will always be a need for mercenaries – whether publicly admitted or not.