How committed do you have to be?

Commitment often plays center-stage in our lives. Whether we are trying to lose weight, get in shape, get a promotion, make more money or achieve objectives, we often think in terms of being committed to the cause.

If we want to achieve an objective we know “we have to be committed.” When our friends and colleagues give us advice they often accuse us of not being committed enough, and they tell us to be “more committed.” And, when we fall short in our desired outcomes, we often beat ourselves up and feel guilty about the fact that we are simply “not committed enough”

On the other hand, some of us take commitment to the extreme opposite. We are so obsessed with carrying out our commitment that we often act with extreme intensity and drive ourselves to serious stress. We plan our every action, measure our every milestone or intake, announce our every achievement and fall apart with every setback. Our friends and colleagues often look at us with worry. They regard us as obsessive and fanatics and their advice is often to lighten up, chill or simply “stop taking your commitment so seriously!”

So, the question is: “How committed do we need to be to succeed?”

There are those who believe that in order to succeed you have to be completely and absolutely committed and dedicated to your cause, with extreme discipline and no hesitation or excuses.

I was once listening to a webinar about commitment, by a known performance expert, during the lecture they said something to the effect of “It’s not enough to WANT something or even be COMMITTED to it. In order to succeed, you have to feel like you MUST have it, or MUST achieve it. To succeed you must be prepared to live in the mindset: “Failure is not an option,” and “No alternative”.

Well, that makes complete sense to me. However, it’s probably extremely challenging and stressful for most of us to live this way.

On the other hand, if you become too attached to your commitment or outcome you are likely to fall into the trap of over-identifying with it and as a result determining your self-worth or validity by the degree to which you have achieved your commitments.

That is not a healthy dependency either. If you don’t achieve your goal or milestone you are likely to feel invalidated. It’s the classic “I am a failure” versus “I failed”. How many of us have experienced that tailspin in our life?x

I have seen so many people who feel that only if and when they get the promotion they’ve been seeking… or make the income and buy house…they’ve been hoping for… then they would have made it. I have heard rich and successful people say “only one more big deal…”, but then when they made another million they didn’t even stop to enjoy it. They immediately started chasing the next one and the next one.

So, what do you do – stop caring about your goals, or start treating them casually?


Commitment is one of those magical areas that requires a balancing act of contradicting forces. You have to remain relentlessly committed, but at the same time don’t get too attached.

Think about it like sport. You play to win – like your life depends on it. However, at the end of the game, no matter who won or lost, you thank your opponent, go have a beer together and remember: it is only a game.

If you focus too much on the “it’s a matter of life and death” part you could easily let things get out of hand. You could easily become one of these athletes or fans who crosses the line of violence, inappropriate conduct and/or unethical behavior, not to mention simply not enjoying the game.

On the other hand, if you focus too much on the “it doesn’t matter because it’s just a game” part, your pursuit would probably become boring, you would become uninspired, and your performance and results would be compromised.

So, if you want to remain focused, energized and sane regarding your ambitions and aspirations, remember to always balance your commitment with equal portions of relentless passion and humble insignificance.

What is the most important aspect of any Organizational Transformation?

In most organizations, when people talk about Organizational Transformation, they typically mean a major reorganization or restructuring, a process re-engineering initiative or a system and tool upgrade.

These things are very important, and at specific times in the evolution of a company they may be just what the organization needs in order to reach the next level.

However, I have seen organizations with best-in-class processes, systems and tools struggle to achieve great performance and results. And I have seen organizations with barely-adequate processes, systems and tools achieve extraordinary results beyond expectations.

Why is this the case?

The reason is that even in today’s increasingly digital and technology-oriented environment, no matter how high-tech your business is – your success still fundamentally depends on your people. Whether you like it or not, the old cliché: “our people are our most valuable asset” is still as true and vibrant as ever.

Unfortunately, judging by their behavior I still see too many senior leaders who don’t seem to get this fundamental concept, or they simply underestimate what it takes to create the environment for successful and sustainable change.  Maybe that is the reason why so many large change initiatives don’t succeed.

These executives seem to think that because they are senior and have the authority to hire and fire, they can mandate people’s engagement, commitment and ownership, and people will just naturally line up with their direction.

I still see town hall meetings in which senior leaders get up on the stage, explain the rationale for change and express their expectations that everyone will step up to do their part. They then get off the stage feeling that now that people understand the direction and they will join the cause.
However, in reality, nothing is further from the truth.

Yes, if leaders create an environment in which people are afraid to speak up everyone will say what the executives want to hear. However, people are smart. They know how to play the game; how to pretend as if they are on board and pay lip service to the company’s initiatives.

So, any organizational transformation effort has to include a major focus on people; creating the right mindset and focus.

In fact, no matter how complex the restructuring or system change aspects may be, the people aspect will always be the defining factor for success.

Wise executives will prioritize their time and effort to make sure everyone is on the same page, with the same clarity about the strategy and outcomes of the transformation.

They will also invest their personal time and passion to ensure that everyone genuinely buys into the change, driving high levels of commitment, ownership, and accountability. And, that people feel they can step up, speak up, do the right things, bring the tough topics to the table, rock the boat where necessary and take risks – without being afraid of getting into trouble.

When people feel and believe that their leaders get it – that they genuinely value their people’s importance and contribution – they are much more inclined to get excited about the transformation.

And, as we all know – excited people are much more committed. They own the game and go out of their way to ensure that the organizational transformation is a success.

You can’t beat that!

Are you a narcissistic leader?

I was speaking to a senior executive of a global technology company about leadership. During our conversation, he made an intriguing declaration: “I’d rather be a dwarf that manages giants, than a giant that manages dwarfs”.

It was obvious to me that he was referring to the difference between narcissistic leaders who always take the credit, seek the limelight and who remain the stars of the show under all circumstances, versus leaders who view their role as an opportunity to empower, promote, recognize and elevate the people around them.

I liked the senior executive’s proclamation because it was powerful, simple, catchy and relevant to many leaders and executives. I have come across and worked with many narcissistic leaders. While every leader is different, there are similarities among them.

Here are a few examples:

  1. They always have to be “the star”.
    They don’t like to share the limelight, elevate others and overall enable others around them to become too powerful, influential or great. In fact, they seem to be threatened by others shining and they get quite upset when others play too much of a dominant role.
  2. They don’t trust and empower others very naturally or effectively.
    When there are challenges, their first reaction is often to step in and take control, rather than trust and delegate. They tend to divide and conquer, rather than build a cohesive team to rely on.
  3. They don’t communicate very clearly and directly, especially around uncomfortable topics.
    They shy away from conflict or having straight conversations. They don’t bring clarity and closure to issues. When they are frustrated with someone they tend to engage in back channel talk, rather than face the issues head-on. And, often, when they believe that they have communicated clearly and directly regarding an uncomfortable topic, those with whom they have communicated were left confused, uncertain and with a different message.
  4. They are erratic, inconsistent and unreliable in their reactions and behaviors.
    They are often late to meetings; everyone else arrives on time and have to wait, sometimes for hours. They constantly make last-minute unannounced changes to schedule and meetings with no apparent regard for the impact on others. And, they often make decisions that have a significant impact on others out of impulse and emotion, which they later regret and reverse.
  5. They don’t really create a genuine and effective environment of accountability.
    They preach accountability, say all the right slogans but they don’t establish clear and specific objectives and expectations with their people. They also don’t manage and hold people to account for their commitments and deliverables.
  6. They know best and are not very open to feedback, criticism, and coaching.
    They avoid conversation in which criticism could be forthcoming and they are defensive when criticism is given.
  7. They blame others and circumstances for failures, and take the credit for all successes.
    In fact, they love to talk about their own successes, but they avoid talking about failures and they definitely don’t like to take responsibility for the negative impact of their behaviors on others.

If you are not sure if you are a narcissistic leader, assess yourself against these seven characteristics. Or even better, ask yourself:

“How do people around me see and experience me?”

Other people may view you differently than you view yourself. Try to understand their experience – you may find it eye-opening and enlightening.

If you want to improve in this area and become a more empowering leader here are a few practical principles and tips that may be of help:

  1. Be a big person – Give the credit to others when there are successes.
  2. Be responsible – Take the responsibility on yourself when there are failures.
  3. Be generous – Recognize, acknowledge and praise people around you every day.
  4. Be respectful – Recognize people in public and criticize them in private.
  5. Be empowering– Make sure every conversation and interaction you have with others, no matter what the topic, leaves them more energized, focused and empowered.
  6. Be trusting – Make sure your people have clear objectives and expectations that they own and then let them implement their objectives in their own way.
  7. Be reliable – Keep your promises, commitments and timelines, no matter how small or big, with no excuses, just like you expect others to do.
  8. Be a role model – Model everything you want others to do, and treat others exactly the way you want them to treat you.

Is the talk in your team creating high performance?

Have you ever heard someone say: “Talk is cheap”?

Well, nothing is further from the truth!

Talk is one of the most powerful capabilities we have to create and make things happen!

For example, when a Rabbi or Priest says: “I now pronounce you man and wife,” that creates a real new reality. When a judge says: “You have been found guilty!” or “You are innocent!” that pronouncement also changes someone’s life.

For example, when a Rabbi or Priest says: “I now pronounce you man and wife,” that creates a real new reality. When a judge says: “You have been found guilty!” or “You are innocent!” that pronouncement also changes someone’s life.

But, there are so many simple day-to-day examples that show the power of words. When you say something negative like: “This sucks…” or “I’ll never succeed at this…” or “I can’t do this because of them…” this determines your outlook, behaviors and mood too. It makes you smaller than your circumstances.

However, when you say something positive and empowering like: “You can count on me to get this done…” or “Let’s figure out how to overcome this obstacle…” or “Thank you for doing your best to help me…” it creates a much more powerful disposition and makes you bigger than your obstacles.

The great thing about talk is that we all do it all the time, and we have total control over how we express ourselves. We can talk in a constructive way or destructive way.

So, how do you use this powerful capability most effectively to elevate yourself and your team?

At a personal level, you start by paying greater attention to what comes out of your mouth. Most people don’t have strong awareness in this area. They often express negative and undermining opinions and views about areas that are important to them as if these are undisputed facts. The consequence is: loss of possibilities and ability to shape or change their situation and future.

When you consider the effect of conversations in a team setting, the impact and opportunities are so much greater. In fact, you can use team conversations as the lever to elevate your team to higher performance.

How do you do that?

A CEO I am working with asked me once the question:

Do I need to have all my Leadership Team members 100% aligned and owning the future in order for this team to be a high performance team?

My answer was clear “If you want High Performance, then Yes!”

Committed and aligned people think and talk differently about their circumstances, challenges and opportunities than uncommitted people. The former quickly take ownership, get energized, step up and rally others to collaborate around the issues. The latter complain, get discouraged and blame others or circumstances for their problems.

Committed people don’t cover their behinds when things don’t work, they don’t let their ego’s get in their way, and they do not indulge in blame, fault or victim-type conversations. No matter how challenging things are, they only tolerate conversations that make a difference and focus on moving their vision forward.

When an entire team is negative you can be sure to have a very toxic, suffocating and unproductive environment.

If half of the team talks in a negative, undermining or ineffective way and the other half in a positive, empowering and effective way the overall effect may be neutral. However, there would be nothing extraordinary or high performing about that team. Status quo leads people to play it safe. People say the right things but avoid rocking the boat and behave in ways that are comfortable but lack power and impact.

In contrast, when everyone talks in the same positive, empowering and effective way you will experience a different level of collective power.

If you keep that focus going over time, you will reach a tipping point of high performance.

So, if you want to create a high performance dynamic in your team make sure everyone talks in the same powerful way. Powerful requires rigor and discipline. Make sure commitments, timelines and expectations are clear. And, make sure people hold each other to account for their commitments.

And, don’t be fooled by appearances. People often say the right politically correct things in public and then they pay lip service to their pronouncements in their actions.

Pay attention to what people actually do and how they speak behind the scenes. The informal chatter is often more reflective of how people really feel. It is also more instrumental in shaping your team culture, for good or bad.

Hold people to account for speaking and acting consistently with their vision and commitment. In fact, encourage everyone to do the same. This way you will be creating a culture of honest, courageous, deliberate and direct communication.

Taking stock of how your team members express themselves is half the battle. Once you have awareness of how people talk about the important things, you can start coaching and influencing them to talk more effectively.

For example: by changing the talk in the team from “why we can’t…” to “how can we…” you will start changing the attitude and culture of your team.

If you take an honest look at your own team environment – what do you see? How do people around you talk about the things that are important to them?