Married to the job? – How Leaders show commitment in a fast changing world.

by  Christina Lattimer  |  Leadership Development

After the retirement of a respected and long serving senior leader, his bright-eyed replacement newly selected for the position visited the team.  The arrival of the thirty-something female whose career had been fast paced and widely reported was met with eager anticipation.  Not only was she completely different from the outgoing leader; she had a liveliness about her, which together with her highly acclaimed reputation, gave off an air of professional brilliance.

Upon her arrival, her new team was excited, hopeful, and welcoming.  But the buoyant mood didn’t last. Within an hour the atmosphere had changed considerably.  In her opening speech, the new leader announced what she hoped to achieve in her time with the team, and in the same breath told them her intention was to stay for two years, by which time she would be moving on.

The team’s optimism was crushed.  In the new leader’s mind, she was being upfront and honest with them.  In their eyes she was planning her exit even before she had opened the entrance door, and she lacked commitment. The deciding factor for her followers was that the two years term suited the requirements of the wider organization and had nothing to do with the leadership task at hand.

Whether you are committed or not may not be in question at all for you as a leader.  The question and the doubt raised by longevity in terms of your leadership might be more of an issue for your followers.

In this fast paced world, corporate and team leaders come and go. Founder leaders of established companies are more likely to stay and give their followers welcomed consistency.  There are many stories where founders have exited their leadership roles and their “dream” by selling out and moving on, only to find the business fails or falters within years, if not months, of their leaving.  Given the rate of change both in the business world and as our own goals and dreams change, what role does commitment play in our credibility as a leader?

I believe that whether you are trusted as a committed leader depends on many factors. As a leader you must fully understand the depth, length and purpose of the commitment required of you.  Additionally, you need to be clear about the possibilities of your leadership term being terminated early for you, and the circumstances in which you might choose to leave before time.  Crucially, in the beginning, middle, and end of your term of leadership you plan, communicate, and position your intentions.

As a leader, several principles are relevant in communicating and positioning your commitment in different circumstances.   Commitment, a crucial aspect of your leadership role, gives your followers the certainty they need to be able to develop a relationship with you and grow in trust.  You must position your particular leadership commitment so that you can manage expectations.
The principles are:

  • When appointed for a specific leadership challenge, be clear about your outcomes and be prepared to see it through to the end.
  • When appointed for a specific task, determine the part or phase of the task you will lead on, how long that will take and exactly which outcomes you will be responsible for delivering.
  • If you aren’t sure you will be reappointed, commit to the dedicated vision, values, and mission of the company while you are there. Be clear about your leadership outcomes during your first term.
  • Where you are founder, cultivate a dedication to your own values and vision and a promise to do all within your power to put in place a sustainable plan after you leave.
  • Make a commitment to your followers that you will do the best you can for them while you are there.
  • Make a commitment to doing your absolute best no matter how long your term as a leader lasts.

I had no doubt that the new leader described above was committed, albeit for a predetermined period.  In retrospect she could have positioned her commitment to two years with a clear vision about her legacy, and what she could do for her followers in that time.

So leaders, position your commitment, unless of course you are married to the job and it’s a lifetime commitment.  And if so good luck; my advice would be to keep the marriage alive, and keep a courting mentality!

Christina is the owner of People Discovery, an Inspirational Leadership, Management and Engagement consultancy based in the UK.  You can visit Christina’s website at www.peoplediscovery.co.uk.  Christina’s first published book “The 6 Secrets of Great Emotional intelligence – for Inspirational Leaders and Managers”   is available on her website as a free download.

Photo (© olly – Fotolia.com)

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Jason Carrick  |  11 Jul 2012  |  Reply

Great Read! The same things apply and probably even more so if you are tying to lead without a specific leadership position.

Christina Lattimer  |  12 Jul 2012  |  Reply

Hi Jason

Thanks, a good point. Leaders exist at all levels and at different times for different tasks and your’e right the principles apply in those situations too.

Sometimes, but not always, leading without a specific position has fewer expectations from followers who may be grateful and surprised because someone not overtly tasked with a leadership role steps into those shoes without being asked to. Thanks again – appreciated.


Skip Prichard  |  11 Jul 2012  |  Reply

What a story to learn from. That’s why the “on boarding” process is so important. First impressions are key. And not to look beyond the current position in public, but instead focus on the goals and the team. Learn what their goals are, and help them achieve them.

Christina Lattimer  |  12 Jul 2012  |  Reply

Thanks Skip, absolutely. In this situation the leader underestimated the ability or maturity of the followers to hear the information and still trust her to do a great job in the time she was there. It was a near fatal mistake and one definitely to learn from.

Thanks for your comments. Very much appreciated.


David Kanigan  |  11 Jul 2012  |  Reply

Good post Christina. What immediately came to mind was what the new boss hoped to gain by discussing her planned tenor. (Little in my mind.) The story also reminds me of a post (http://wp.me/p1TJPv-Uw) where the author describes leadership being akin to threading a needle of contradictions. Need to be honest, ethical, compassionate, transparent – but also tough, fair, decisive and optimistic. It’s all a fine balance – which is why many state that they have had few great bosses in their careers.

Christina Lattimer  |  12 Jul 2012  |  Reply

Thanks David nice to see you here too!

Excellent point and a great post, which describes so well the contradictions of great vs popular for me. Looking back over my career, I would say one of the biggest mistakes I have seen by leaders is assuming the people they lead think like them, and many become frustrated when they are misunderstood. Another mistake is when leaders don’t realise the impact they have on their followers. And my final top 3 mistakes is when leaders have low expectations of their followers and people then live up to that expectation. I think brilliant though the new leader was, she instantly fell into all three traps. A big learning curve!

Thanks again David as always your input is greatly appreciated.

Mike Henry  |  11 Jul 2012  |  Reply

Christina, great reminders about a serious point. Most people gauge your commitment against theirs. Sharing the 2-year comment meant that the leader clearly didn’t understand the culture she was entering. She’ll spend the next 2 years managing the gap between her commitment and her team’s commitment. Mike…

Christina Lattimer  |  12 Jul 2012  |  Reply

Hi Mike

You are spot on. The situation happened a number of years ago and that’s exactly what happened. The lost ground was never quite regained and frankly it was a missed opportunity. It demonstrated to me the importance of getting off on the right foot and the massive impact of not doing so.

Thanks for your input, it is very much appreciated.

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