Are you committed?

The many grey hairs I now possess (I suppose I should be thankful for having “many”) lead others to think I might have a bit of work a day wisdom to impart and that's true. While my own mistakes are sometimes the source of said learning, I've also understood quite a bit about the human psyche and success simply by paying attention to those around me who did, and do, well.

One of the keys to success in organization life is commitment. Real commitment.

Part of the challenge at work today is that we throw language around so indiscriminately, so loosely. We talk about commitment and engagement and disruption without thinking about what those words really mean. We put them on like a new coat for the chilly weather and take them off when we get indoors.

Commitment is not something we take off.

Commitment is laser like in intensity and constancy. It doesn't waver. That's the essence of the word: one will not waver.

John Adams was committed. Seen from the perspective of my friends across the water he committed treason. But he did not waver.

Commitment is like that: depending on the vantage point you see if from it can make us uncomfortable. Yet I would argue nothing important can happen driven by those with a spine of jello.

Shoud commitment simply be a word you plug into a mission statement, a throw away line you use in annual planning or a vague notion you reference while interviewing then you don't get it.

So let me help you understand the cost and opportunity of commitment. It is:

  • Lonely – staying true to a philosophy or course of action can be lonely at times: people jump on and off bandwagons regularly. Can you stand alone?
  • Old-fashioned – under the guise of flexibility we deride those unwilling to pull up tent stakes so easily and move on, but the committed among us know sometimes you gotta pin yourself to bedrock
  • Uncomfortable – Steve Jobs was committed, Winston Churchill was committed – these are not generally people you'd warm up to since their constancy of focus kept them apart from many of us. Thank heavens
  • Self-renewing – the very notion of commitment is that sometimes absent any outside force of renewal we carry on despite the odds. Where does this strength come from? It's an inside job
  • Boring – commitment is constancy (read: Deming) a continual proces of checking and reassessing against a framework. It isn't new and sexy every month but the same thing over and over. That's how we drive significant change: can you handle that?

Of all the reasons why commitment is so strong and at the same time so unobtainable this last point my be the best explanation. We like new, we like sexy, we like different.

To think about having a standard that doesn't shift with time, to have a sense of guidance or goal or a pallet of ethics that's immutable – well, most of us can't handle that.

It's too much damn work.

But if you've been lucky enough to know and work with someone in your life who gets commitment – as I have – then you will understand it's true power and the next time you use the word you can appreciate its cost and value.

John Adams would be proud.


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