6/27/11 “Commitment”

Good day, team.

The subject of commitment keeps coming up in my coaching sessions lately, so I thought I would offer some thoughts on the topic this week.

Many years ago, I participated in a management training called “Situational Leadership.” The course introduced me to the idea that a person’s work life is really made up of two things: commitment and competency. At any given time, in any situation, you can diagnose how well team members are doing based on how committed they are to the work and how competent they are in performing that work. This idea makes sense to me. In coaching others, I can plainly see that, in some cases, people love the work they do and need little or no motivation from their manager to continue doing it.

However, there are some tasks that people don’t enjoy at all, and they often need an extra push from their manager to get them done. When faced with these tasks, people frequently get stuck and their competency decreases. But when doing what they love, the same people sail right through an assignment and even ask for more of that work when they are done.

Consequently, managers need to provide different styles of management depending on what their team members are doing. If a person’s commitment level decreases, he or she probably needs more emotional support. If his or her competency flags, he or she most likely needs more direct instruction.

Through my coaching experience, I have seen how important it is for managers to be versatile in their management styles. The most successful managers first observe how their team members are doing and then use the style that gets the best results for each individual team member in each particular situation. Managers who fail tend to use the same style over and over again and aren’t observant or versatile enough to change how they manage others.

The worst managers judge their team members based on only one or two situations and then label them as being either uncommitted or having low competence, if not both. These managers have difficulty seeing their team members in any other light, and the individual is then doomed to fail. I have heard some managers make comments like, “He’s always so slow in getting stuff done,” or “Why doesn’t he communicate more effectively with others? No matter how many times I try to help him, he just doesn’t get it!” These comments are red flags to me.

I have learned that in the areas of commitment and competency, it’s fairly easy to direct someone to be more competent. If you want someone to use a computer more effectively, you can sit down with them and direct them through step-by-step instructions. But getting a team member to want to learn how to use the computer — or increase their commitment level — is a different matter. Management by support is much more difficult.

Lack of versatility in an individual manager’s style extends to the teams they manage. Most teams tend to take on the personality and behavior characteristics of the person who leads them, so when a manager lacks versatility, the team does also. Eventually, these teams are unable to commit, and ultimately, people disengage. Without an emotional connection to the project or the manager, people lose the energy it takes to get results.

In “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” Patrick Lencioni gives excellent descriptions of teams that fail to commit and those that commit. Here’s what he says:

A team that fails to commit …

  • Creates ambiguity among the team about direction and priorities
  • Watches windows of opportunity close because of excessive analysis and unnecessary delay
  • Breeds lack of confidence and fear of failure
  • Revisits discussions and decisions again and again
  • Encourages second-guessing among team members

A team that commits …

  • Creates clarity around direction and priorities
  • Aligns the entire team around common objectives
  • Develops an ability to learn from mistakes
  • Takes advantage of opportunities before competitors do
  • Moves forward without hesitation
  • Changes direction without hesitation or guilt

This week, if you manage others, ask yourself if you’re versatile in your management style. Do you direct people when they need it? Or do you offer them more emotional support when their commitment wanes? Do you know how to diagnose how your people are doing in any given situation? Do you see what’s really challenging them? Do you know when to let them do what they love with only an occasional check in to make sure they’re on track?

Read through what Lencioni says about committed teams and ask yourself in which category your team falls into. If you’ve never taken a management course that gives you more tools for dealing with your team members, sign up for one. We don’t automatically have these skills — we need to learn them.

If you’re not a manager but work for one who continues to use the same style over and over again, try being more clear about what you actually need from him or her. Do you need more clear instruction or do you need some extra encouragement by being told you’re doing a good job once in awhile?

As Lencioni points out, successful managers ensure team commitment by taking steps to maximize clarity and achieve buy-in. Ask yourself this week how committed you are to what you’re doing. If you’re into it, then keep going. If you’re not, find out what you need to do to reconnect to the work within yourself. And if you’re managing others, be versatile enough to see what the team needs to succeed.

Have a good week,


Kathleen Doyle-White

Pathfinders Coaching

(503) 296-9249

© Copyright 2011 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.

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