Leading By Commitment

I love to study leadership and so it has been a great delight for me to be in Chicago this week participating in a leadership institute cohosted by Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management and Bexley Seabury Seminary.  Some of the best minds in leadership theory were present and so we were all “drinking from a fire hose”  as we were introduced to many great ideas.  I would like to share a few of my insights here  and perhaps a few more in future columns, as I think they can be of value for all of us. You might wonder what leadership has to do with wellness.  One of my favorite take aways from the institute this week was the point that authentic, inspired leadership comes from within, meaning that good leaders have a high degree of alignment between how they lead and how they live.   To lead well means that how we lead is integrated with how we live, whether we are leading a Fortune 500 company, a family, a volunteer committee, or a Little League baseball team.

One quote that has stayed with me  is, “Leaders are given subordinates, but they must earn followers.”  When I coached youth soccer years ago, I was assigned players to my team.  When I served as the pastor of a church, there were already members in the church when I arrived.  In both cases, neither players nor members were going to have an interest in following my leadership until and unless I earned their trust and respect.  The same is true in classrooms, in the world of business, and in families. Respect cannot be commanded, it must be earned.

Another important understanding that I learned about in contemporary leadership theory this week is that leaders can choose to lead in one of two different ways—by compliance or by commitment.  Again, this applies to all arenas and all levels of leadership.  Pause for a moment and think of the leaders that have most influenced you positively during  your life.  Did you learn from and follow these people because you had to (compliance) or because you were inspired by them and therefore wanted to bring forth your passion and best efforts (commitment)?  I would assume it is the latter—you committed your best self to those leaders because you respected them and trusted  both their vision and their values.

Ana Dutra, CEO of Mandala Global Advisors and President and CEO of the Chicago Executives’ Club, defines leadership as, “Giving purpose and meaningful direction which inspires and motivates a group to work toward a desired goal.”  Including words like purposemeaningfulinspires and motivates in her definition of leadership shows  that Dutra leads by striving to earn commitment (not just compliance) from the groups she leads.  It is not that compliance isn’t important, and indeed required at times.  Compliance is the minimal effort needed to keep one’s job or stay part of the group.  Commitment is maximal effort for the greater good of the group, and is what any group wants and needs to be successful.

We had a wonderful opportunity this past week to observe leadership by commitment as the Cleveland Cavaliers amazingly won the NBA championship last Sunday evening.  Lebron James did not just lead this team the last two years with his basketball skills, but he inspired and motivated his teammates to play at a level that they had previously not believed was possible. Each member of the team committed themselves to a dream others thought was impossible and even laughable, to take their team from a losing record to league champions in just two seasons. As we all saw last weekend, it is thrilling to watch a committed leader and a committed team working together to reach their goals.

No team, basketball or otherwise, succeeds based on the performance of one individual, no matter how talented that individual is.  Teams succeed when leaders motivate everyone to offer their best efforts for the good of the group. We are all leaders and followers.  We all have people we influence formally or informally.  What I learned this week has given me a chance to pause and reflect on both what kind of leader and what kind of follower I am, and I invite you to do the same.   Think home, work, and community.

Are you leading and following by compliance or are you leading and following by commitment?  How you answer makes a big difference, both for yourself, and for the people that you both lead and follow.