Bury My Heart at Conference Room B
By Stan Slap
Emotional commitment means unchecked, unvarnished devotion to the company and its success; any legendary organizational performance is the result of emotionally committed managers.
It takes a value proposition
Where does the constant talk about leadership in organizations come from? It comes from the one thing that companies want most from their managers: emotional commitment.
A manager’s emotional commitment is the ultimate trigger for their discretionary effort, worth more than financial, intellectual and physical commitment combined. It’s the kind of commitment that solves unsolvable problems, creates energy when all energy has been expended, and ignites emotional commitment in others, like employees, teams and customers. Emotional commitment means unchecked, unvarnished devotion to the company and its success; any legendary organizational performance is the result of emotionally committed managers.
Leaders are those rare human beings who have emotional commitment and can inspire it in others.
Any manager can appear fully productive and enthusiastic simply because they’re financially, intellectually and physically committed. But if you’ve ever witnessed a human being emotionally committed to a cause—working like they’re being paid a million when they’re not being paid a dime—you know there’s a difference and you know it’s big.
It may be big but it’s not easy
The key neurobiological source of emotional commitment is the ability to live one’s own values in a relationship or environment. For managers this means the relationship with their company and the environment at work. Yet imbedded in the job description of any manager is the requirement to constantly subordinate or compromise personal values in favor of company priorities. This is what it means to be a manager: serve your company first.
“In order to really get emotional commitment from its managers, the company would have to reattach managers to their own deep drivers—allow them to live their own values and act according to their own personal codes.”
In order to really get emotional commitment from its managers, the company would have to reattach managers to their own deep drivers—allow them to live their own values and act according to their own personal codes.
This has Company Nightmare stamped all over it. If managers were allowed to live their value of Family, maybe they wouldn’t work 50 hours a week, stay away from home constantly or constantly take the job home with them. If managers were allowed to live their value of Integrity, maybe they wouldn’t represent a product to customers as performing the best and at the lowest cost when it doesn’t, it isn’t—or it doesn’t even exist yet. If managers were allowed to live their value of Health, maybe they would resist conditions of constant stress. If managers were allowed to live their value of Freedom, maybe they would demand autonomy in decisions and pay less respect to an enforced hierarchy.
This is the great fear of the corporate organism: If I set you free to pursue your own priorities, you’ll leave me and I’ll die. The problem is, managers are already free. They’re free to detach, which is about as free as one can get. The company may have captured their minds, their bodies and their pockets, but that doesn’t mean it’s captured their hearts. Those hearts are the source of emotional commitment.
The solution. Cleverly disguised as the problem.
What’s needed is a model that will reliably allow managers to live their values at work without the company having to constantly facilitate the process. A self-sustaining model that is a safe and healthy choice for both the company and its managers. Brace yourself: The model is called leadership.
Not leadership the way you typically hear about it, as a corporate subversion of the concept—the 10, 100 or 1,000 immaculate and selfless organizational behaviors required for you to be anointed a “leader.” The true purpose of leadership isn’t to increase shareholder value or the productivity of work teams. That’s important and leadership will indeed do these things when applied in an organization; any corporate objective that depends on inspired human effort will best be realized through leadership. But that’s not the point of leadership, it never has been and it never will be, and to confuse cause and effect is to deny the critical reason to become a leader in the first place.
Taking the concept “leaders do the right thing” literally sets companies galloping off in an obsessive search for whatever “thing” is the Holy Grail of leadership. It’s not what leaders do that’s important; it’s why they do it.
Leadership is a motivation. It’s a purpose before it’s ever a practice. The worst thing in your own development as a leader is not to do it wrong. It’s to do it for the wrong reasons.
The irreducible essence of leadership is that leaders are people who live their deepest personal values without compromise and they use those values to make life better for others—this is why people become leaders and why people follow leaders.
“The essence of leadership is that leaders are people who live their deepest personal values without compromise and they use those values to make life better for others.”
Because leaders live their own values they’re essentially self-medicated—the pressure’s off the company to provide deepest motivational fulfillment. Leaders also remain the model of human beings driven to have emotional commitment and to create it in others, against all odds and, if necessary, against all protective common sense. It’s real leaders that a company needs most if the organization is going to thrive.
Yet a company exists in a dangerous jungle; there are a lot of hungry heavy breathers lurking in the shadows.
The constant focus is on survival and the last thing it’s going to chance is the counterintuitive move. What a company absolutely cannot do is knowingly introduce potential chaos into the organization, and this logically includes encouraging authentic leadership throughout its management ranks. At the root of chaos theory is the concept of the strange attractor and leaders are most definitely your strange attractors.
Leadership in its truest form is seen as a hectic proposition, a messy thing, and for all its tempting benefits, uncertain and uncontrollable. How many times have you been told to be a leader, trained in one leadership method or another, preached at, screeched at, had leadership once again imbedded in your job objectives? Yet how many times has it all stopped short of encouraging the uncompromising personal motivation that actually causes leadership in the first place? Companies want what leaders do without incurring why they do it.
Recognized or not, the intuitive corporate concern is that real leaders won’t carry the company values wallet card; they’ll carry their own and they’ll burn the corporate house down in order to advance their cause.
Allowing real leaders to thoroughly inhabit the system could destroy the system. They’ll reorder the balance of power without considering practical consequences. This concern can be defined as: reasonable. That’s what genuine, powerful leaders have often done throughout history.
But only if destroying the system was the purpose of their leadership. What if it were to protect the system? What if real leaders, transformed from throughout the ranks of a company’s managers, flourished in the belief that to protect the company was to protect their ability to gain the personal benefits of leadership—to live their most important personal values every day at work?
Is this possible?
Any expert in human behavior will tell you that if you want an emotionally committed relationship then people must be allowed to be true to who they are in that relationship. This is the problem that companies must solve to get what they want most from their managers.
It’s not a problem if the organizational structure just uses managers as standardized components with a ceiling of performance expectations. But if any company wants the best of what human beings can choose to give, it has to free them to give it. Only when a company sets its managers free will it have the dependable organization it dreams of. The company will finally be free as well. Free from the expensive burden of falsely stimulating shallow commitment. Managers will end up with what they’ve always wanted and so will the company.
“New truth: The cause cannot always be the company; instead, it must also be managers’ pursuit of their own values within the company.”
New truth: The cause cannot always be the company; instead, it must also be managers’ pursuit of their own values within the company. This isn’t licensing chaos; it is ensuring control. There is no more reliable way for the company to become the cause than by not always insisting on being the cause.
Can companies trust their managers to remain committed to the enterprise if they’re free to live their values at work? If you’re managing managers, here’s a sure way to tell: Could you trust yourself? If the answer is yes, the same trust can be extended throughout the management population of your company.
Human behavior is only unpredictable and dangerous if you don’t start from humanity in the first place. To safely trust managers a company must allow them to do the things that real leaders do for the reasons that real leaders do them. The company must allow itself to be the best possible place for managers to practice true fulfillment, to live their values, and to realize deep connectivity and purpose.
This is the system managers will protect. This is the system managers dream about.
Good news: It’s not your fault. Bad news: It’s your responsibility.
Your company won’t naturally align itself with your deepest personal values; you have to align with your own values and then make them work within the company. You have to become that real leader.
Can you do it? Oh, yeah. Leadership isn’t some rare genetic imperative. It’s innate in every human being and it’s damn well innate in you; you just have to know where to get started. There is no leadership school that can claim history’s greatest leaders as alumni. They all started for a reason and figured it out. The same reason that will drive your own leadership.
Let us review: Leaders are people who know exactly who they are. They know exactly where they want to go. They’re obsessed—hell-bent intent—on getting there. They’re fabulous communicators, careful and creative, and always working to turn information into meaning. They create trust; beyond trust they create faith by doing exactly what they say they’re going to—anything and everything—and by being obviously emotional about what’s most important to them. They make a lot of mistakes but they admit those mistakes to themselves and change because of them, and they admit those mistakes to their people. And they encourage their people to make mistakes in the name of their vision and values.
Worried that leaders are rare superhuman beings and you’ll never make the grade without somehow gaining the ethical foundation of Mother Teresa, the oratory power of Martin Luther King Jr., the event budget of Steve Jobs and the unwavering focus of Rex the Wonder Dog?
Leaders are indeed rare human beings. But they’re just human beings, after all, and the things they do can be done by anyone—anyone who understands what’s truly most important to them. Understand your own deepest values and you’ll naturally be intense about communicating them to others, consistent in the things you do, clearly passionate about your beliefs, insanely focused, willing to take an objective view of anything that helps you get to a place you know in your soul is better than any place else, and relentless in inspiring the reluctant to help you do it.
© 2010 by Stan Slap All rights reserved. Excerpted from the book, Bury My Heart at Conference Room B: The Unbeatable Impact of Truly Committed Managers. Published by Penguin.
About the author
Stan Slap is the president of the international consulting company called, “slap.” He is credited with revolutionizing performance for some of the world’s biggest, smartest and fastest companies — developing explosive growth strategies and the cultural willingness to implement them. He personally coaches CEOs and the executive teams of many of these companies.
Stan has directed the successful expansion for companies ranging from Patagonia to Pennzoil. He designed the plan that helped Oracle sell their strategic intent to 40,000 employees in 167 countries and developed employee re-engagement plans for HSBC. He has created winning brand strategies for companies from Deloitte to Black Entertainment Television. He has invented many successful advertising campaigns, consulted to leading advertising agencies and personally written slogans for companies from Coca-Cola to Checkpoint Software.
Stan has also developed many successful management training programs and is a frequently requested keynote speaker for major event presentations by Fortune 500 and Global 2000 companies.