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Leadership Requires Commitment, How do you give your word?

The definition of commitment is simple: “an engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action” - that is, doing what we say we are going to do, regardless of the reasons we might not be able to. Fulfilling commitments is not so simple. Personally, I know it can be far easier to give an excuse for why I don’t do something, rather than following through with my commitment. There are a lot of reasons and/or excuses, but looking at the results can often be far more powerful.

Here are some results from my own personal experiences when I did not meet a commitment:

Commitment: An appointment

Breaking Commitment: Not showing up on time (or at all)

Result: I let someone down, and send a message that the appointment was not a priority to me

Commitment: Being present when I am with someone

Breaking Commitment: Not showing up fully

Result: I don’t give my best, and send the message that the person is not a priority for me or my time

Commitment: Giving my word

Breaking: Not following through at all, or after the expected deadline

Result: Things don’t get done, and my work becomes someone else’s responsibility, which could result in damage to a relationship

We may think we are being generous with our time, but often when I overcommit, I don’t have time, and then I can’t meet anyone’s expectations.

These results may not have the same meaning to you, but for me, they have financial, emotional, and relationship consequences. What results do you experience when you make excuses for the commitments you break? Do you see some similarities?

Understanding the Importance of Commitment in Leadership

I develop leadership skills for teenagers as my profession, and talking about commitment with teens is an interesting topic. I passionately believe that when you teach or train others, you also need to reflect on yourself. In reflection of my own commitment (or lack thereof), I noticed that I had to work through what commitment means for me: what I fully commit to, and what I let myself off the hook (or make excuses) for.

To do this, I examined:

How do I commit?

What are the parameters that I give to myself to know my limits? Frequently (especially as a people pleaser), I will say yes to someone without clarifying what is on my plate. Rather than just saying “yes” to please the other person, or to feel important because I was asked, I need to take time to evaluate if I can say yes, or if I need to adjust the time allotted to achieve the commitment.

When do I commit?

When I take time off, it is important that I make that commitment - for myself - and my family. I may feel that others cannot do the job as well as I can, but the funny thing is that they can’t - until I let them try. If I don’t allow others to do the things I do, especially when I can’t do them, they will NEVER be able to do them as “well” as me, because I don’t let them practice. I am also communicating to my family that I am not committed to spending time with them because I don’t commit to fully being present and taking time off. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

How do I Set Expectations?

As leaders, we need to communicate what “commitment” means for our team and share the results of what happens when those commitments are not met. It is critical to be clear about the impacts of meeting expectations, and as a team, we need to know what to expect from each other as well.

This topic will be explored further in another post - directly focused on the importance of clear expectations as leaders.

Why is Commitment so difficult?

We don’t always commit, especially if we know it will be hard. When we use a reason (AKA excuse), we can easily explain why we didn’t achieve the expected results, but it really is just a way to hide from not meeting our or others' expectations.

What is the difference between being present and being committed?

Here is a strategy that I have started to use when I attend conferences.

I choose to be present!

If you’re like me, there have been times when you felt like you couldn’t give up the precious time you have to go to a “valuable” conference. Instead of being present, you spend most of the time replying to emails and tending to the needs of others. There have probably also been times when you have gone to a conference and felt like it was a waste of your time.

To counter these challenges, we need to choose the commitments we make. We need to commit by being present: before, during, and after - to get the full experience.

To accomplish this, I do the following:

  • Spend time considering what I want to get out of the conference.

  • Set expectations for myself and others on

    • How and when will I check my phone or my email?

    • How will I let others know I am not available to them?

  • Will this be an opportunity for others to learn how to step up and cover for my absence?

  • What will I do with the information I learned, and the people I connected with?

There’s a great chapter in The Compassionate Samurai by Brian Klemmer, that talks about commitment, and really lays out why commitment is so difficult. As a leader or a team member, commitment is essential, and understanding what commitment means for you (both as a leader and a team player), will help you accurately communicate it to your team, which is critical for the success of the team, the organization, and achievement of your desired outcomes.

What will you choose to commit to, and how will you hold yourself accountable?

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