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The Five Commitments of a Leader

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Effective Leaders Don't List Commitments ... They Live Commitments

What really defines leadership? Our concepts of leadership are usually based on our unique personal experiences, and it is clear that a leadership style that works in one situation can be a recipe for disaster in another. In leadership, one size does not fit all.

In The Five Commitments of a Leader, Mark Leheney asserts that a more revealing way to examine leadership is through the commitments a leader makes (or fails to make). He focuses on five commitments a leader must make to be effective—commitments to:
•The self
•People
•The organization
•The truth
•Leadership

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Chapter 1: A Commitment to the Self

ePub

“It’s hard to see the picture when you’re in the frame.”

—UNKNOWN

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

—T.S. ELIOT

Leaders must commit to understanding themselves as human beings if they hope to grow and lead others effectively. This commitment is a fundamental starting point for everything else. While a commitment to the self may sound somewhat indulgent, it is no small, nor easy, task.

PRINCIPLE

To be most effective as a leader, you must understand yourself as a human being.

Truly understanding the self as objectively as possible and then intentionally acting on that knowledge—those two are not the same— is a lifelong journey that inevitably involves experiences ranging from unease to discomfort to outright pain, along with bright, wonderful, gratifying moments, too. It is not a journey for the faint of heart, but self-awareness, growth, and effective, authentic leadership can be the prize.

 

Chapter 2: A Commitment to People

ePub

“Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.”

RALPH WALDO EMERSON

Probably the single most important question to ask in an effort to understand effective leadership is: What is the nature of the relationship between leaders and others? In the content and context of that relationship lies key information on how well the organization is performing. Is the relationship strained, marked by mutual misunderstanding, a lack of trust, low motivation, and resentment? Or does the relationship contain clear communication, mutually reinforcing processes, genuine commitment, and a clear sense of moving ahead together?

PRINCIPLE

The health or quality of the relationships you have with others is an important indicator of your leadership effectiveness.

Recall someone in your work life who showed a genuine interest in and concern for you. This person wanted to know how you were doing, what your own goals were, what you liked and didn’t like, and a host of other things that mattered to you—and which created a sense of connection, or loyalty to that person.

 

Chapter 3: A Commitment to the Organization

ePub

“Give people a convincing reason and they will lay down their very lives.”

—PATRICK DIXON

With commitments to the self and others defined, we now turn our attention to what it means to be committed to the organization. After all, the organization is where everything comes together in the form of real work toward real ends getting accomplished.

Here, we ask: What does it mean to be committed to the organization? How does that happen? What does it look like? What can get in the way?

In answering, we look at the roles of mission and vision, and how values influence those. Further, we explore how these commitments can be converted into action—behavior that demonstrates the commitments and marks you as a leader. We also address how a clear-eyed, truth-anchored assessment of the organization constitutes the commitment.

Let’s begin with why the organization exists in the first place.

The mission of an organization can be thought of as, quite simply, why it exists. It’s the overarching purpose of the organization, the rationale for its operating. Mission statements are written from the standpoint of what the organization does, in the broadest sense.

 

Chapter 4: A Commitment to the Truth

ePub

“I never did give them hell. I just told the truth, and they thought it was hell.”

—HARRY TRUMAN

Approaching the subject of truth-telling in organizations today can be unsettling or uncomfortable. The phrase itself may sound a little high-minded, or perhaps quaint.

Some leaders may think it would be nice in a perfect world, and then remind us of pressing realities: competitive pressures, colliding objectives, and relentless demands to just get things done. Speaking the truth can threaten those objectives. As a result, some people consider the phrase “truth-telling in organizations” to be an oxymoron because they feel that their organizations have made it profoundly threatening to tell the truth.

However, leaders must give voice to the truth. They must be committed to the truth in order for the organization to do its best work. This means understanding the truth, surfacing the truth, and sharing the truth with others. Working from false assumptions, misinformation, or denial is a recipe for misalignment and incoherence in work. Accountability and commitment to the truth are fundamental, sometimes painful, and always inescapable.

 

Chapter 5: A Commitment to Leadership

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“The quality of leadership, more than any other single factor, determines the success or failure of an organization.”

—FRED FIEDLER AND MARTIN CHEMERS

It is only after the individual has made a commitment to the organization, to the people, to the truth, and to the self that he or she is in a position to truly consider what a commitment to leadership means. A person can have the previous four commitments and yet not be committed to leadership. There is one more piece to the puzzle, one more step in the journey.

The essence of the commitment to leadership is a type of calling. This call may be experienced as a tug of conscience, the insight that a group of people need organizing help to most effectively realize their vision or accomplish their mission. There must be a genuine, felt sense of creating something meaningful through exercising leadership. Only you can determine if leadership is a calling for you. Committing to leadership means committing to this calling.

 

Chapter 6: Final Thoughts

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It is your choice now to reflect on the commitments, to find the place they hold and where they create energy and excitement in your own life, and to decide what you want to do as you move forward.

That choice begins with a commitment to your self—ultimately the key instrument of leadership, the ground out of which everything else happens. This is not code for selfishness, but self-awareness.

From there your choice moves to include others in the form of a commitment to people. While we all lead our own lives, real leadership begins to take hold when others are involved. Understanding their needs and potential helps you lead them effectively.

Your choice then occurs in the context of an organization, where people come together to accomplish something they care about collectively. Clarity on what matters most and how the organization is performing is part of the commitment.

Throughout the entire process, a commitment to the truth anchors everything in reality. This commitment is a disciplining, organizing, and guiding function. It is essential for leaders to be truth-tellers.

 

Appendix: Empirical Research into Leadership

ePub

Clearly, leadership means many different things to many people. There are countless models, theories, and ideas. Depending on what you have experienced, a pithy quote or great story might seem to powerfully capture what leadership is all about, to you, at that moment.

At the same time, it is important to look at the topic from the perspective of exploring what really works, sustainably and over an extended time. The intention is to broaden any of our individual frames and grasp what, over the long haul, and across many different situations, seems to matter most. Here, we turn to data and empirical research.

Of all the contemporary research efforts in leadership, few if any can match the rigor and power of statistical findings presented in the following works:

The Extraordinary Leader, by John Zenger and Joseph Folkman

Good to Great, by Jim Collins

Working with Emotional Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman

The Leadership Challenge, by James Kouzes and Barry Posner.

 

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