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Commitment and Leadership: How the Two Go Hand In Hand

Lori West 27 Apr 2016
What is commitment? How does it impact your leadership? Why do you need to own your commitments as part of your leadership journey?

It’s interesting that, in the realm of mindset, people talk A LOT about unconscious limiting beliefs, but hardly anyone discusses unconscious limiting commitments. However, it’s the commitments you’ve made over the years that hold you back.

Let’s take a look at the definition of commitment. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines commitment as, “a willingness to give your time and energy to something that you believe in, or a promise or firm decision to do something.” A belief, on the other hand, is defined as, “the feeling of being certain that something exists or is true.”

Notice the difference between the definitions. While a belief describes an internal experience, a commitment describes action. Our beliefs may or may not influence our actions, but a commitment causes us to take consistent action, over and over again, with the intention of creating some kind of outcome.

Take a well-known business leader like Richard Branson, for example. When you think of Richard Branson, what’s the first thing that pops into your mind? Perhaps you think of his fun-loving personality and sense of pioneering adventure. Perhaps you remember him waging war on established monolithic companies like British Airways and Sky.

Having flown Virgin to Dubai recently, what stands out to me is his commitment to customer service. Why?

A week after the flight, I received a customer survey request by email. I took the time to complete the questionnaire, to discover how thorough it was. This was the second time in two years that I have flown long-haul with Virgin, and each time I was asked my opinion about my entire experience, even down to my satisfaction with baggage claim.

It struck me that other airlines just don’t do that. I’m not in the air that often, but I fly often enough to be struck by the fact that each time I’ve flown with Virgin, they’ve asked me for my feedback. I was honest. Just about everything was good, apart from the leg room in economy, and that was BAD! As a tall person (175cm), I would seriously consider whether recommending Virgin to someone with long legs is a good idea or not.

Consider what unspoken commitment was at play in Virgin’s strategy that had us endure an uncomfortable seven-hour flight. It’s not the kind of commitment you’ll see in Virgin’s customer literature, but you will see it in their shareholder report. Any guesses?

Economies of scale.

By packing us into the cabin, they were able to sell more tickets, serving more people while keeping staffing, fuel and airport costs consistent. They create greater efficiencies for the company bottom line. However, what’s the cost to the customer, and ultimately, what’s the cost to customer loyalty?

Let’s delve into this a little further. What unconscious commitment might have been operating that would have Virgin try to satisfy opposing demands of shareholders and customers?

The need to please everyone. Ring any bells? Sound familiar, human, even?

Although I’ve never met him personally, I like Richard Branson. I respect what he has accomplished. However, I’ve never been a raving fan of air travel with Virgin. The reason is that each time I’ve flown with Virgin, the experience has not lived up to the hype, whether it’s been a case of flying on a knackered plane, or having an in-flight entertainment system that doesn’t work, or dealing with severely restricted leg room.

In future, I would opt for British Airways over Virgin every time. While British Airways may have a staid image, they focus less on flashy branding and celebrity status and concentrate more on the service they provide. Yes, there have been times when they’ve got it wrong in the past, but ultimately, it comes down to the fact that I have received consistently better service from British Airways than I have from Virgin. That means that I trust them to deliver on their brand values in a way I don’t with Virgin.

What is it that they do differently? Their words and actions line up and they manage expectations. This enables them to deliver on their commitments without over-promising, a strategy that sets companies up for failure.

When I travel, I am prepared sacrifice the chauffeur service to and from the airport and the champagne reception upon arrival in favour of nice surroundings, the choice to watch films and space to move my legs while I’m cooped up in a confined space for several hours.

What’s this got to do with your leadership? Everything! If you pay lip service to a promise and then consistently fail to deliver, I strongly recommend you evaluate what unconscious commitments are creating this lack of alignment. And here’s the thing to understand. Your audiences see about you what you can’t see about yourself. If your commitments are unconscious to you, they’re not necessarily unconscious to the people you impact.

Ever heard the phrase, “Actions speak louder than words”? In the case of commitments, that is definitely true! If you're experiencing a challenge that seems impassable, ask yourself, “What unconscious commitments am I upholding that create the conflict between who I say I am and what I actually do, and what evidence do I have to back my assertions?”

No leader is perfect, but if you are committed to being a brilliant leader, then it’s your responsibility to make sure you deliver on your conscious commitments. You're better able to do that when you clear out your cupboard of unconscious commitments. It’s your responsibility to make sure your words and actions are consistently in alignment. It’s your responsibility to do everything you can to step up your game and deliver on your promises.

Even when you’re Richard Branson.

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