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How to Tell If You’re Truly Committed

Imagine for a moment that you’re trying to decide if you can count on a person or not? One quality you’ve likely tried to assess is their level of commitment. Will they stick with it when the going gets tough? Will they find solutions and not get mired down amidst the inevitable problems that will arise?

Commitment is absolutely a key attribute to assess during any hiring, promotion, or talent assessment process (or when stepping into any serious relationship). Management expert James P. Womack, Ph.D., founder and senior advisor to the Lean Enterprise Institute, Inc., said: “Commitment unlocks the doors of imagination, allows vision, and gives us the right stuff to turn our dream into reality.”

But here is a deeper question . . . one we often forget to ask. Are we committed to do what it takes to ensure that the person we hire, assign, lead or manage is set up for success? In other words, are we fully committed to doing our job?

Before you answer that question, let’s get clear about what commitment means. And, we’re going to forego the normal abstract dictionary definitions and cut to the chase. The clearest definition we’ve heard is this:

“Commitment is confirmed when the challenge of greatest difficulty is successfully resolved.”

~ William A. Guillory

What’s beautiful about that definition is that it’s measurable. The challenge of greatest difficulty is resolved. Using that measure as a gauge of our commitment is wonderfully instructive, to say the least. Because we either stuck with it or we didn’t.

Furthermore, along the path toward resolution, we can notice the points at which we want to give up; the situations that challenge us the most; or the places where our own unresolved issues tempt us to call a halt to the process—the point at which our willingness tends to run out.

To be fair, we can also get clear at which point outside circumstances were greater than our ability, know-how, or known resources. And this is where it gets tough. Sometimes we’ve done everything we knew how to do and tapped every resource we could muster and still the project or situation ended badly.

So what does real commitment require in such circumstances? For starters, it invites us to make the hard and humble assessment of how it might have been prevented; or what we might learn to reduce the odds of it happening again. It also challenges us to assess our own ability honestly and that of others and ask ourselves what are we truly capable of accomplishing; and when and where are taking on projects that exceed our true capacity?

To be sure, true commitment is no simple game. And, as is often the case, we have the best shot at maintaining a level of true commitment when we have an effective formal and peer accountability system in place. In other words, the right system and individuals to help us assess ourselves along the way or before we take a project on in the first place.

Now, imagine having the ability to read people’s openness to adopting the type of mindset that will dramatically increase their capacity for commitment. Because, without commitment, any expectation we may have of someone successfully carrying out their assignment is built on a faulty foundation.

Next, imagine being able to assess your own level of commitment as you bring a person on board or invite someone to take on a new assignment. With that in mind, here are some helpful questions from our book Thriving in Business and Life and its accompanying online course, that can help you pre-assess your own level commitment as well as that of others:

  1. Have I been clear how my role intersects with theirs in supporting the accomplishment of the goal or assignment?

  2. Have I made it clear how their unique role applies to this assignment or requirement?

  3. Can they verify their clarity and commitment by repeating the specifics of these roles back to me?

The second area of commitment to ask about involves modeling responsibility.

  1. Have I modeled taking full responsibility and accountability for my role and the support I’ll provide?

  2. Have I walked through possible “what if” scenarios to assess their level of commitment?

  3. What will they do if this or that occurs

It’s vitally important to pay attention to a person’s attitude and their answers during “what-if” discussions. Are they confident, over-confident, or concerned? Are they realistic? Too constrained? Overly optimistic?

It is also essential to remember that past performance and present attitude are the best indicators of future potential. This doesn’t mean that you lock a person to their past, but it does mean that if they’ve fallen short in the past you may need to provide more support and oversight until they’ve demonstrated commitment, clarity, and capability at an acceptable level.

The third area of pre-assessing commitment involves a stated agreement. Do you have a statement of commitment from the person? Have they told you, for instance, “Yes, I understand and I’m totally up for it. I’ll keep you posted as we go along.”

Once again, we emphasize the importance of you taking the same approach if you’re the one being offered a new role or opportunity. You should be asking yourself if these conditions are present before you say, yes. If they’re not present, work with the person offering you the opportunity to get these conditions in place.

In his oft-quoted comment, Goethe is credited with saying, “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.”

In other words, a committed person becomes a virtual resource center. And a magnetic one at that. We’ve all had the experience: We commit, then unexpected allies and resources begin to show up, seemingly from nowhere. It’s as if our commitment triggered an influx of assistance that would otherwise have remained completely unknown and inaccessible.

Here’s your Thriving challenge for the week:

If you are offering an opportunity to someone, whether it be a working colleague or a family member, use the questions listed above to assess their and your level of real commitment ahead of time. Then partner with others to ensure that everyone involved has the accountability resources they need to stay committed especially when the going gets tough.

Will Wilkinson and Christopher Harding

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