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How Can Business Leaders Foster Commitment (Instead of Just Compliance) with Their People?

By Chris Duprey

How Can Business Leaders Foster Commitment (Instead of Just Compliance) with Their People?

Compliance and commitment are two very different states that leaders can get their teams to. One gets us obedience, while the other gets us what’s possible.

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I talk with and coach leaders every day, and while we may not specifically talk about compliance vs. commitment, in essence, we’re always talking about it. So, rather than talk loosely around this topic, we’re going to dive right in.

What is compliance? It is the state or fact of according with or meeting rules or standards.

What about commitment? It is the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.

Knowing those definitions, what kind of teammates do we want in our companies, on our teams? 

Of course, we want folks who are going to follow rules and standards, but don’t we want more? Don’t we want people who are dedicated to our mission? People that live and breathe our purpose?

That is why we need to focus on commitment, rather than simply compliance as leaders. We need to learn how to build teams of committed employees.

When I think about what we’re seeing in the world today, the great organizations are building movements, not lingering around in the way things have always been. 

You don’t build a movement by achieving compliance. You build a movement when your people are committed.

When we build movements, we are thinking about what’s next, what’s possible, envisioning a world that is better, more evolved than things are today. To do this, we need teams that are committed to these visions, that truly believe in the things we believe in.

I think we can all agree that this is what we want. The question becomes, how do we create an environment that takes people past compliance and into commitment?

It all starts with how we show up

This has become a theme for me in my coaching and in how I look at leadership. This simple act is one of the keys to success in both life and in business. 

I want you to think back to when you’ve had a boss or leader who showed up in a way that rubbed you wrong. Maybe they were arrogant or demeaning or aloof. Just take a moment to think about what it was like to work for them.

  • Were you committed? 
  • Did you want to get up every day and get after it?

If you’re like me, you were probably reluctant. You complied with this leader because you wanted to succeed. You wanted to do good work, but you didn’t go above and beyond.

This happens when leaders show up and make themselves the hero. 

Let me explain. When a leader makes herself the hero, everything is about her, not her team. She takes all the credit (at least publicly) and treats her team as if they are there to support her and her goals. She becomes the center of attention or the hero of the story.

At best - this leader will get her team to comply with her decisions but she will be nowhere close to starting a movement.

So, with that said, we need to show up in a way where our team is the hero.

When a leader makes her team the hero, everything is about the team, not her. When she is given praise, she immediately redirects it to her team (even if they aren’t there). She sees herself as a support tool for her team, that her job is to remove impediments, give guidance, to empower her people to do their best work. Everything she does is about ensuring her team is set up for success.

This leader will have a team that is ready to run through walls for her. She is ready to start a movement.

What do we need to do to show up this way?

I wish there was an easy answer here, but there isn’t. There is no magic thing you can do to start showing up the way you need to to get commitment, but here are some things that are definitely going to help.

Know how you show up. This may seem obvious, but too often we don’t really know what we’re doing, we just simply do it. We do things based on reactions, based on instinct, without truly understanding what is really happening.

As we work toward getting our teams and organizations to a place of commitment, we need to start to see what is happening around us and how we are interacting with it.

When we know how we show up, we give ourselves a choice. The choice between showing up this way or in a way that is needed at the time. We don’t simply let the conditions dictate our behavior as a leader, we shape our own behavior.

Show up with humility. This is where you show up and are ok with the idea that you may be wrong. Simply bringing this mindset into a team meeting starts to set a tone that everyone’s input is welcome, valid, and could be the answer. When you show up with humility, it doesn’t matter who’s idea we use or how we got there, all that matters is the outcome.

Be fully committed. It is impossible to get others committed if you aren’t. Your team will be able to read your body language, your tone, and will see right through you. Now when you are fully committed it is contagious. People can feel the energy and want to be a part of it.

"I know how to show up, but what’s next?"

We’ve done the hard part, showing up in a way that sets the tone for commitment. Now we have to continue to nurture those conditions. It is one thing to set the conditions when you are trying to get people through a change in the organization, but how about in the everyday running of the organization?

How do we ensure that we don’t simply slip into being ok with compliance as we grind out our tasks?

To me, it is the same as above. Every day we have a choice. We can choose to be a leader committed to creating a work environment that leads to engaged and committed employees or we can choose to be the leader who is focused on himself rather than the team.

As we’ve seen in the data, unfortunately, many leaders choose to focus on themselves rather than their teams, leading to unreal levels of disengagement at work. I struggle to understand why so many leaders lead this way when we know that engaged and committed employees are going to be better for your business. 

It is literally a win-win-win when we work towards committed. Our teams win, our company wins, and our clients win!

What’s possible?

This is the question that we need to be asking ourselves. It needs to become a mantra that is continually reverberating in your head.

When leaders obsess about what’s possible everything else generally falls into place. We show up in ways that set the conditions for success. We are so focused on the outcome, the vision of what’s possible, that we don’t have the time to worry about ourselves. We are doing everything we can to achieve it.

When leaders act this way, people aren’t simply compliant, they become committed. They’re willing to do the hard work, to go above and beyond, because they believe in what they’re doing.

The only thing getting in our way is ourselves. The sooner we see it, the sooner we can take action.

Image courtesy of © Connecticut Headshots

Join the IMPACT coaches for a deep dive on a new topic every month in our free virtual event series.


Executives and Leaders
Published on August 19, 2019

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