The Heart of Leadership is Commitment

Individual commitment to a group effort—that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work. –Vince Lombardi

When you stop to think about it, commitment is the heart of leadership. Exceptional performance, satisfaction, and well-being depend on it. And without continuous commitment, people and their organizations never reach their full potential. If we want our organizations to succeed, we need individuals to be committed to the group effort.

You are with me so far, right?

What does it mean to be committed?

To be committed is to give oneself fully to the project and to unleash one’s full talent in service of the work.

What factors create the possibility for people to be committed? And, what sustains commitment over time?

Let’s Use Your Life Story To Better Understand Commitment

Can you think of a time in your life when you gave yourself fully to your work and unleashed your full talent in its service? With that experience in mind, what was it about the situation that created your deep engagement—your commitment—in the work?

Jot your answer down. We will return to your thoughts shortly.

We have asked hundreds of leaders this question and then analyzed their stories to identify a set of themes, or factors. What emerged are seven factors that create commitment at work. In our research, several of these are almost always present when people find themselves fully engaged and unleashing their full talent in service of their work.

Seven Commitment Factors

  1. Sense of Purpose (Mission). This factor typically includes being part of or creating something larger than self, contributing to others, and having clarity about a meaningful mission. This is the most predominant of the seven themes—foundational even.
  1. Relationships (The Human Connection Factor). This factor is closely connected to sense of purpose. It includes connecting with and developing meaningful relationships with other people in the process of doing the work. It can include being part of a cohesive team and having a shared sense of commitment. A vibrant, socially connected group of people is a powerful force. 

Factors #3 and #4 are closely connected and magnify each other:

  1. Autonomy/Real Responsibility—with accountability. Having creative license, a sense of ownership, and the knowledge that, “If I don’t do it, no one will.” May include having others counting on you or looking to you for leadership.
  1. Challenging experience with high stakes and pressure. Stepping up to a daunting challenge, often with a deadline or sense of urgency. Failure will include negative repercussions.

Factors #5, #6, and #7 are often connected and mutually reinforcing:

  1. Activates Your Talent. Doing something you are wired to do and that calls on your unique capabilities and passion to deliver positive results. It includes self-efficacy, confidence, and inner satisfaction. “I can do this!” and, “I was made for this!”
  1. Achievement. This is about results and accomplishing goals. It may include a drive to be successful, along with the recognition and credibility success brings. This factor can be linked to intrinsic motivation (like a sense of satisfaction) and/or extrinsic motivation (like status or pay). 
  1. Personal Development. This factor is about learning and a drive to continuously improve and to achieve a high level of mastery or expertise.

Earlier, we asked you to reflect on an experience in your life when you gave yourself fully to your work and unleashed your full talent in its service. What was it about the situation that created your deep engagement—your commitment—in the work? Based on our research, we believe you will identify with several of the seven commitment factors above. And we expect you will also see interesting nuances in your story that may even lead to a new category.

A Note On Leadership As A Collective Process

If individual commitment to a group effort is what makes an organization work, it makes sense, therefore, that leadership in a group includes cultivating commitment in group members. Leaders cultivate commitment. And, as we have found in our research, the members of exceptional groups, not just the person in a position of authority, cultivate commitment in each other. Creating and sustaining commitment is leadership in action—and it is a collective process.

Your Call to Action: LEAD!

What are you doing to intentionally cultivate commitment in the people you work with?

Read through the seven commitment factors and consider which ones are important to you and your teammates. Identify specific ways that you can cultivate those factors. Be intentional about it. You are exercising leadership—you are leading—every time you behave in ways that activate commitment in yourself and in others.

To spark your thinking, here are seven ideas—one for each of the seven commitment factors:

#1 Sense of Purpose (Mission): Ask your teammates to talk about what is meaningful about their work and to share stories about the positive contributions the team is making.

#2 Relationships (The Human Connection Factor): Eat meals together and look for opportunities for people to get to know each other at a deeper level.

#3 Autonomy/Real Responsibility—with accountability: Create opportunities for people to own part of the work and then let them run with it.

#4 Challenging experience with high stakes and pressure: Identify new, and even daunting, experiences that invite (and nudge) people to the edge of their capabilities.

#5 Activates Your Talent: Study your teammates to identify their unique capabilities and passions, and then create opportunities for them to do these things more.

#6 Achievement: Work with others to create difficult and specific goals, consistently provide each other feedback, and celebrate milestones along the way. Have fun with it!

#7 Personal Development: Create learning opportunities—both experiential and educational—that foster continuous learning and growth, along with recognition and feedback to amplify the impact on the individual and the larger organizational culture.

And, above all, model for others what commitment looks like in action. In other words…

Be committed yourself!

This requires self-awareness and intentionality: you must know what cultivates commitment in yourself, and you must deliberately create those things in your life.

We can’t think of anything more exciting than unleashing the power of authentic commitment in ourselves and in our teams. It really is the heart of leadership.