Author: Cynthia Low

The Five Commitments of Leadership

What are great leaders truly committed to? This is a central issue for organizations looking to thrive or just survive in the years to come. It’s also a key issue for companies that are actively building a leadership pipeline, or for leaders who are expected to accomplish many different things each day.

Some leadership models feature dozens of specific techniques a leader is expected to master; however the essential question is: what core commitments underlie all those techniques and actions? The five commitments outlined in this article can be considered the “source code” for the behaviors and actions of effective leaders. They are the foundation of powerful leadership.

A distinction between what is said about commitments and what is actually done is important here. The concept of a commitment means it shows up in action, not just words. This can be the difference between the “talk” and the “walk.”

These commitments are also vital in our rapidly changing times. Tectonic developments in the world of work, including technology, globalization, the emergence of Generation Y and new work values have transformed the relationship between leaders and those whom they hope to lead.

So how is leadership defined in today’s world? Consider this definition: “a catalyst for new ways of thinking, being and acting.” Leaders may have positional authority or none at all, but exercise leadership through their actions. Old mental models around leadership are fading, and new ideas about what it takes to lead in the world today are taking hold. The commitments reflect this reality.

In this new reality, leaders exist at all levels, including where you sit. Instead of leadership thought of as reserved for the few at the top, today anyone can lead from anywhere. Look at what you actually do each day and ask what kinds of commitments your actions reveal.

Any job applicant today can expect questions about passion. What is he or she truly passionate about and therefore committed to? The same is true for leadership. What are the real commitments? They are:

  • To the self – how much you work on developing yourself as a human being, to be the best leader you can be. In fact, it is self awareness that is the first major step toward becoming truly committed.
  • To people – how much you really focus on connecting with those around you in order to work effectively with them.
  • To the organization – how much you are devoted to the intentions and performance of the place where you work so that you show up with maximum energy and conviction.
  • To the truth – how much you tell and invite the truth, even when it is hard, in order to keep yourself, others and the organization on a right course.
  • To leadership – how much you answer a call to lead and choose to engage in proven, effective leadership behaviors.

These commitments operate in an atmosphere of invite and enroll, not command and control. There may be some who wonder what this type of business environment has to do with commitment. Here is the point: by embodying these commitments, the leader opens the door to a greater flow of information, ideas and creativity that can more powerfully motivate others.

Here is how each of the five commitments works:

Self: “Know thyself,” said Socrates to the ancient Greeks and his advice is every bit as important today as it was thousands of years ago. Leaders need to learn about themselves first and with this knowledge, commitment follows. One example: instead of simply dictating a plan or strategy, the leader explains his thought process and requests feedback. Learning about the self can happen this way. Blind spots, oversights and faulty assumptions can all be surfaced. This tells the organization that the leader, though believing in the approach under consideration, does not think he always has all of the answers, and is interested in other opinions.

It also tells associates that a leader with positional authority will not always invoke it to render decisions or preclude potential contributions from others. The leader has checked ego at the door and is humble enough to learn from others – a commitment certain to be appreciated by the organization.

People: The late Rodney Dangerfield’s comic riffs on getting no respect reveal an essential truth that should be understood by committed leaders – people want to be appreciated. When associates see leaders only focusing on a task, output or goal, they can feel as though they are no more respected than machines in a factory. People want to know their contribution is valued; no one ever thanks a machine.

The committed leader responds by doing more than just saying thank you. One way is to build followers’ capacity by helping them develop skills to further their importance to the organization along with their careers. Another means is for leaders to always recognize their people’s willingness to help and acknowledge their role in making a difference. Recognition is a huge motivator.

One such action illustrative of commitment is unfortunately shunned by too many leaders – empathy. This is the capacity to see things as others see them, and is a key skill needed to influence others. “Oh no,” is a common response from some leaders, who view empathy or any people-centric approach as a sign of weakness. Leaders unsympathetic to a people-centric commitment would do well to study Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence, in particular his thoughts on leading by dominating: “Leadership is not domination, but the art of persuading people to work toward a common goal… (T)here may be nothing more essential than recognizing our deepest feeling about what we do and what changes might make us more truly satisfied with our work.”

Committed leaders have no problem letting go of the notion that the only function of people is to get in line and do their jobs. A display of empathy is a welcome outreach to those looking for signs that a leader respects their work.

Organization: The basis of this commitment is the company or organization’s mission statement – its reason for existing – and the leader’s willingness to sacrifice personal interests or agendas to support it. A committed leader finds meaning, value and purpose in the organization and then shares that commitment with everyone else. One way is to align the corporate mission statement with a personal one that covers why the leader is here, the vision of accomplishment for the organization and how this commitment gives power, meaning and fulfillment. Anything less than a total commitment here is likely to be picked up by sensitive associate antennae, which could easily lessen the leader’s effectiveness.

Truth: Jim Collins in his book Good to Great says “Confront the brutal facts, but never lose faith.” This is perhaps the most difficult of all the commitments because it requires up-front honesty. Any attempt to sanitize reality regardless of the situation through spin or less than forthright assessments could permanently damage the leader’s credibility and erode any possibility of trust. Anything less than the truth from leadership is unsustainable.

Herb Kelleher, head of then fledgling Southwest Airlines, recognized its importance when he met with his employees to discuss the airline’s tenuous status – at the time it only had four planes and its future was far from assured. He told the truth and his people responded. Working as a team, the employees decided to study pit crews at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to see if the workers’ quick-time maintenance could apply to improving airplane turnaround time. It did. Since then, Southwest has been a leader in customer satisfaction surveys and its financial picture is much brighter than many of its much older and more established competitors.

Kelleher’s approach provides two lessons about the role of truth in commitment: (1) When facts are confronted and reality is shared, people are more likely to offer suggestions to help fix the problem; (2) If you don’t tell people the truth, you can’t lead them.

Leadership: Collins examined commitment in the top tier of leadership that he referred to as “Level 5” and determined that such leaders are “incredibly ambitious, but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves.” At the same time, Collins found Level 5 leaders displayed surprising humility, meaning they did not let their egos get in the way.

Their approach is illustrative of a cycle of leadership that is intuitive to committed leaders. The cycle operates as follows:

  • Clear seeing or perception
  • Imagining possibilities
  • Aligning those possibilities with the needs of those whom they lead and the organization
  • Working to achieve those goals
  • Adapting by remaining flexible as situations change
  • Achieving the goals
  • Celebrating the achievement.

These are transformational leaders who create early successes to build momentum and acknowledge each of them. They are willing to admit there is no perfect leader. And because of their candor, they are recognized for being realists and are recognized as committed.

Command and Control vs. Commitment

Of course, there are times when top-down command and control is necessary, such as during an emergency or crisis, but these are usually short-term situations. What happens when the crisis passes and production, output and other metrics eventually meet or exceed goals? The leader may feel that his or her style worked and needs no examination or reflection.

The lost opportunity in such cases is not thinking about what other ways of leading would generate greater results and commitment in others; for example, asking questions versus telling, or spending more time listening and less time talking. These other possibilities result in
more long-term, sustainable success. They are not possible in every situation, but when they are implemented they have a powerful impact on both people and results.

Commitments as Benefits

There may be those who disparage this approach because they view the five commitments as intangibles and therefore extraneous or irrelevant to the company’s mission and bottom line. That view misses the point. As Goleman put it, “Imagine the benefits for work of being skilled in the basic emotional competencies – being attuned to the feelings of those we deal with…having the ability to get into flow states while doing our work.”

In fact, the five commitments are benefits. Consider them the tools to motivate anyone who is more than willing to display the same commitment in exchange for being valued and appreciated by leadership. Calls for motivation are most likely to achieve results when they emanate from a leader whose actions make commitment a two-way street

Mark Leheney is senior consultant for Management Concepts, Vienna, Virginia, a professional services company with training, consulting and publishing expertise. Management Concepts partners with individuals and organizations to improve performance through consulting, training programs and certificate courses. For more information, please call (703) 790-9595 or visit

Good to Great, Jim Collins. HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. New York. 2001
Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman. Bantam Books. New York. 1995

Have You Dreamt about Being Your Own Boss?

An interesting bit of information recently emerged from employment statistics in Canada (and one has to assume a global trend). The majority of new jobs created are in the ‘self employed’ category. This is right across the board, including business analysts, project managers and so many others in related fields. What this means is a large number of those who have been voluntarily or involuntarily displaced have become independent contractors and consultants, at least for the short term.

So, have you ever dreamt of being your own boss? Most of us probably have. We think about the flexibility and freedom it offers. We wonder how much more income we would retain if we simply contracted out our services. We imagine what it would be like to be our own boss. That picture of three-day weeks and extended vacations starts to look pretty compelling. But how realistic is it? And what are the downsides that need to be considered and managed to make you successful?

Keep the Coffers Full

One of the biggest challenges the self-employed face is developing a stream of regular income. Some transitions can be quite smooth. An example is Jeff, who left his employer to contract directly with a former client. He is getting paid to do the same work by the same people, minus the middleman. From his perspective this is a good move in the short term and will allow him to form his own consulting firm in the longer term. He could very well transition from being an employee to being an employer. The risk is that, as an independent contractor, he is easy to write out of a budget. If the project is cancelled, his contract is cancelled. My advice to Jeff would be to start looking for the next source of income now.

A contrasting example is Ruth, who has been working as an independent consultant for the past three years. Her business has been thriving – she was building up her client base and striving to meet needs in a growth economy. She is now finding that as her clients deal with cost constraints, their penny pinching is putting a pinch on her pocketbook. She finds herself in a position of having to learn and use a new skill set – business development. It takes time and endless energy to keep the pipeline of work flowing. My advice to her is, get business development busy and look for alternate channels of work to get her through this rough patch.

If you want to thrive in self-employment you need to be prepared to sell yourself every day. If you are someone who thrives on doing the work, but the thought of having to sell it doesn’t interest or motivate you (and may even terrify you), being self-employed may not be a viable option. When the economy is good it is often easy to pick up contracts based on an existing network. When the economy is in recession, a lot more people are fighting for more limited resources. You need to be up for the challenge.

Stay Focused

When you work for a company, others provide structure and direction. No matter how independent and initiating you are, it always helps to have deadlines looming. As Christine Keeling, a successful serial entrepreneur who runs Blueshoe Rewards, says “no one is kicking your butt to do things.” She has this advice for those starting out:

  • Build a plan.
  • Set priorities and stick to them.
  • Ruthlessly manage your time.
  • Get serious about managing your finances – remember you are tying your family’s livelihood to your good idea.

Develop a Support System

Just because you are working for yourself doesn’t mean you should be an island. Look for help and support everywhere. Christine points to the benefits of joining a support group for entrepreneurs, like Strategic Coach in Toronto. These groups often have speakers or resources to help you in areas that are new to you, whether it is building a business plan or marketing your services. You might want to find a mentor or even start your own networking group. My advice is to get all the support you can, wherever you can.

There is a lot of risk in going solo. There is also plenty of reward, as Christine points out. “When you are starting out, you are operating without a net. You have to like being on a roller coaster. But, at the end of the day, your successes are your own. And that’s the best feeling in the world.”

Dr. Rebecca Schalm, who has a Ph.D in Industrial/Organizational Psychology is Human Resources columnist with Troy Media Corporation and a practice leader with RHR International Company, a company that offers psychology related services for organizations worldwide.

The Three Myths of Virtual Team Leadership

I recently worked with a virtual team that was developing and rolling out a new product across many European countries. One colleague in London refused point blank to cooperate with another colleague who was based in Amsterdam. When I asked why, I was told that my English colleague found his Dutch counterpart rude and offensive-even though they had never actually met or spoken. When I dug deeper, it became clear that the real issue was about culture and style: the Dutch team member, for time management reasons, only checked his e-mails once a day, used a far more direct form of speaking than his English counterpart, and wrote his e-mails all in capital letters. His English colleague felt he was being ignored and, when he did get a response, that his Dutch colleague was SHOUTING AT HIM!

This is typical of the problems that occur when a team is spread across time zones, national borders or cultural boundaries. A virtual team does not have the same advantage as a team whose members meet face-to-face on a regular basis-when all the team members are inside the “30-foot limit.” Unconsciously, people pick up innumerable subtle cues when operating face to face with colleagues. We acquire information about our colleagues, including what is acceptable behaviour and what is not through observation. Inside the30-foot limit, people find ways to work together without even being aware of it. When we have no face-to-face experience with our new team colleagues, our communication lacks a certain richness. And because we don’t consciously attend to these things when we’re in close propinquity, we don’t appreciate their importance. As a result, the importance of these activities is often overlooked when working with remote teams. To ensure success, the virtual team leader must avoid being seduced by the three myths of virtual teams and must proactively attend to providing the social richness that virtual communication lacks.

The Reality of Virtual Teams

What can you do? At the start of the project, bring team members together in a start-up session so that they can meet each other face to face and socialize. This meeting will establish relationships in a way that is only possible when people are in each other’s physical presence. Human beings can relate to, start to trust, and feel responsibility towards someone they have met in ways that aren’t possible with a stranger.

Use this meeting to involve the team in developing team processes. This includes mapping dependencies between members, articulating their expectations of each other, and explicitly discussing and agreeing on the protocols that will operate between team members. The process-setting portion of the meeting may be the “official” reason for holding this meeting. This involvement will also create commitment and buy-in among the team members for these processes. If the start-up meeting isn’t feasible because of cost or time constraints, you should ensure that any complex work that requires close collaboration is handled by team members working inside the 30-foot limit.

Another option is to have key team members visit their remote colleagues to establish relationships and agree how they will work together. If neither of these options is feasible, be sure that your timeline and budget allow for the additional problems, delays and rework likely to be caused by mistaken assumptions, misunderstandings and conflict. During the life of the project, make sure that all team members are kept up to date on its progress, both what is going well and what is still to be achieved. This helps both to reduce the “outpost syndrome” and to show team members where they fit into the big picture. Repeat and reinforce the agreements made during the initial face-to-face meeting.

The Three Myths of Virtual Teams

As a virtual team leader, you must reject these three myths:

Myth #1

“My virtual team will be successful because they all share a common goal.”

Clarity of purpose and a compelling vision of success is a prerequisite for all high-performing teams. However, outside the 30-foot limit, the shared context that vision provides gets lost or forgotten if it isn’t reinforced daily through words and actions. You must ensure that everyone is up to date with the team’s progress and that expectations and dependencies between team members are understood.

Myth #2

“My virtual team will be successful because I have the best people on it.”

Individuals who perform at a high level in a co-located team situation aren’t guaranteed to operate well in a virtual or remote team. Often, individuals who find themselves working alone stop feeling connected to the team-an emotional state known as the “outpost syndrome.”

Myth #3

“My virtual team will be successful if technology is in place to allow them to communicate.”

It is, of course, vital that appropriate technology be evaluated and deployed in a considered and planned manner (and subsequently monitored to ensure it delivers the expected results). But, with due respect to all currently available technology, technology cannot and does not replicate human communication: technology doesn’t provide the same richness as that of people working in close proximity. The successful virtual team leader recognizes this gap and takes action to bridge it by addressing the human factors that technology filters out. As a team leader, you must initiate action to support the transition to remote working as well as develop team processes and enable a feeling of connection to prevent the outpost syndrome.

Judi Williams is the owner of Great Beginnings Limited and an author and instructor with Learning Tree International. Great Beginnings offers tailor-made training solutions. They design and develop a wide variety of training and professional support material such as fully immersive classroom training, interactive e-learning tools, video-based training, downloadable products etc. Judi has authored a number of courses for Learning Tree International such as The Art of Coaching, Effective Time Management and Personal Skills for Professional Excellence.

The Virtues of Virtualization

Virtualization technologies have graduated to the big time, but it didn’t happen overnight. While early virtualization application experiments can be traced back to the 1960s, it is only in the past decade that there has been growing acceptance of this cost-saving technology.

Foreshadowing new virtualization breakthroughs, a 2006 IDC analysis projected that companies would spend more money to power and cool servers by 2009 than they would spend on the servers in the first place. And a recent Goldman Sachs survey of corporate technology users found that 45% of respondents expect to virtualize more than 30% of their servers (up from only 7% today).

The heart and lifeblood of virtualization consists in using a hypervisor (software that provides a virtual machine environment), situated between the hardware and the virtual machine. The virtual machine is, in essence, data, while its applications files are stored on a physical server or on a remote storage device. The result is that the virtual machine has portability, which translates into a strategic advantage in adverse situations.

Virtualization technologies have come a long way, says James Geis, director of integrated solutions development at Boston IT consulting firm Forsythe Solutions, because evaluating capacity was once difficult. Thanks to improved capacity management tools, that task has been simplified and has become a mainstream means for resource planning.

Geis also notes that, while massive adoption of virtualization solutions has become commonplace, not all servers and applications are meant to be virtualized. The choice, he says, of when, where, and how an application can be virtualized should be based on performance metrics. “There are cases where processing, memory, storage, and network requirements dictate a solely dedicated server.”

However, the value of virtualization as an enduring strategy for continued growth is enormous. Geis outlines the following benefits:

Capacity optimization. Virtualization places capacity planning and optimization at the forefront of data center management. Properly implemented, it produces the maximum return on investment per server dollar.

Rapid server provisioning. Speed and accuracy are essential in a frenetic virtual business environment. Using a server template, virtual servers can be created effortlessly. Geis says new server provisioning takes minutes or seconds, rather than the days or weeks required to procure a new box and install an operating system and software.

Server portability. Virtual servers and the applications they support can be easily moved or copied to other hardware, independent of physical location or processor type. This feature alone provides unlimited flexibility for hosting servers and applications on any combination of physical hardware.

Reduced hardware, facilities, and HR expenses. Fewer server boxes cost less, take up less floor space, require less electricity and air conditioning, and require less maintenance, thus reducing costs related to hardware procurement, real estate, utilities, and human resources.

Larry Honarvar, vice president, consulting services, at CGI, a Montreal-based IT and systems integration consulting company, employs virtualization technologies in the following areas: managed services, software development and maintenance, and hosting solutions.

For software development, virtualization better leverages hardware and software investments, Honarvar says. This works well, given the fact that customers are often scattered around the globe, working in different time zones. “Virtualization makes better use of our infrastructure investments because it allows us to test different development and testing environments. It lets us control costs and redirect funding into product maintenance and enhancement,” he explains.

In hosting solutions, CGI employs virtualization solutions to maximize services and, at the same time, contain costs. Honarvar stresses that a compelling selling point for clients is that virtualization offers transparency. “They see the benefit of being able to have more environments pre-configured and quickly available to map their needs.”

The virtualization solutions marketplace gets bigger every year. Many companies are turning out half a dozen virtualization solutions a year. Here are two examples:

Toronto-based company Asigra has developed a line of backup and recovery services. Its Multi-Tiered Storage Billing System is designed to save the time and expense of developing or modifying an existing billing system, which the company says could run up to thousands of dollars. Its features include “agentless simplicity” (software is installed on only one node, whether the customer has one PC or hundreds); advanced security features (authentication, encryption and non-escrowed keys); and autonomic healing (provides managed backup/restore services for customers).

Ottawa-headquartered Mitel has introduced a number of communication tools for small and medium-size businesses, offering reporting and a signaling protocol called SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) capabilities. Mitel is aggressively promoting its Business Dashboard, which allows companies to track call activity on an internal IP network with both historical and real-time reporting. It collects trend data on call volumes and times, and trunk usage. Its neatest feature is tracking the path of a single call through internal systems and departments, which makes for accurate management of calls.

And that’s just a brief sampling of the virtualization technologies on the market. Look for aggressive new startup companies from all over the globe to jump into this application-rich, expanding niche.

Bob Weinstein is a science and technology writer with Troy Media Corporation.

Five Ways to Do More with Less – and Be Successful

Do you find yourself suddenly being asked to do more with less? Was there once someone in the office beside you whose job responsibilities have suddenly become yours? Are you feeling pressure from your boss to deliver, deliver, deliver?

It isn’t as if you were slacking off before. Between the meetings, the email and just doing your job there wasn’t a lot of time left over. So how, exactly, are you supposed to manage now? Here are five success strategies for getting more accomplished with the time and resources you have.

Success Strategy #1: Clarify your role and responsibilities. This is the first thing you should do. If you are taking on responsibilities that are new to you, it is critical that you spend some time with your manager defining what they are. While it can be tempting to rush over this because there doesn’t seem to be time, making assumptions about expectations can slow you down later. Questions to ask include: Why did you give me these responsibilities? What do you expect me to accomplish and by when? How will my progress and success be measured?

Success Strategy #2: Establish priorities. There is a pretty good chance you now have too much on your plate. You will need to look at your tasks and deliverables and start putting them into three categories: ‘urgent’, ‘must do’, ‘maybe someday’. One thing I advise people to do is make a ‘not to do’ list for themselves and their organizations – it helps us focus and be efficient when we know what we don’t need to worry about. Make sure you also think across the system – whose work might be dependent on your getting something completed? Once you’ve categorized things it is time for another meeting with your manager. Making sure the two of you are in agreement around priorities will save you time and effort.

Success Strategy #3: Identify what you need to learn. If you are taking on things that are new to you, you will have to invest some time and energy into your own learning and development. You should identify your gaps in three key areas: knowledge, skills and practical experience.

Knowledge is usually the easiest to acquire but can be time consuming. Figure out who can help you get up to speed or point you in the right direction. This is where having a good network inside and outside of your company can help.

Skills are tougher than knowledge – you have to actually do something. Maybe there is a quick course you can take to accelerate your progress, but that may not be realistic or in the budget. Think about how you have acquired new skills in the past and what worked for you. Some people like to start with the theory before they try something. Others like to start by experimenting and learn on the fly.

Even if you have the basic skills already, doing something well requires practice. Watch for these opportunities and seize them. Warning: this could push you outside your comfort zone! Finally, give yourself a break. This is new to you – don’t expect to be perfect.

Success Strategy #4: Ask for feedback. One item that frequently gets a low score on employee surveys is, “I get timely feedback from my manager.” Turn that around. Instead of waiting for someone to give you feedback, ask for it. If there is something you can do to be more effective or efficient, don’t you want to hear about it? It is up to you to create the conditions where others can give you good feedback – be open, listen, ask clarifying questions, say thank you, and put good ideas into practice. There is no better time to ask for feedback than when you can honestly say, “I’ve never done this before, I’m trying, but I would really like to get your suggestions on how I can improve.”

Success Strategy #5: Keep things in perspective. Yes, there is a lot on your plate and so little time. This can lead to a lot of stress, particularly if you are someone who strives to do everything well (maybe even perfectly). You are only human. Remember that others are feeling exactly the same way. What you can do is focus on what is most important and strive to get it done. If others see you doing your best, they will respect you for it.

Dr. Rebecca Schalm, who has a Ph.D in Industrial/Organizational Psychology is Human Resources columnist with Troy Media Corporation and a practice leader with RHR International Company, a company that offers psychology related services for organizations worldwide.