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Fear of Commitment

(posted: November 3rd, 2012)

This is the third in a series of blog posts in which we will talk about various facets of fear, how it impacts the workplace, and how (and why) we as leaders can change fear into trust.

On the surface this topic sounds like it belongs in an advice to the lovelorn column, but fear of commitment affects our workplaces as well as our personal lives.

Commitment At Work

Overcoming fear of commitment by creating trust in the workplace

There are the obvious commitments that you think of when you think of work: Projects, meetings, deadlines, daily goals, and more.

Then there is a different kind of commitment - Emotion-based commitment. It's the commitment we make (or don't) to co-workers, ideals, leaders, and, ultimately, the organization.

While we may not fear obligatory commitment to our daily duties, we all too often fear commitment to people, even in our work lives.

"...It's determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal--a commitment to excellence--that will enable you to attain the success you seek"

Mario Andretti, world champion racing driver

We may fear:

  • learning the hearts, passions, and backgrounds of coworkers
  • trusting in co-workers, team members and leaders
  • the pursuit of honest communication between ourselves and coworkers

In all situations, people commit with their hearts at least as much as with their minds.

Why Do We Fear Commitment To People?

At the root of it, we are afraid to trust.

We know that when employees feel that their input isn't valued, their ideas are not considered and their opinion is not solicited, they don't trust their leaders or their co-workers.

From Patrick Lencioni's "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team":

Team members with an absence of trust

  • Find reasons to avoid spending time together
  • Hold grudges
  • Fail to recognize and tap into one another's skills and experiences
  • Jump to conclusions about the intentions and aptitudes of others

It's no wonder we fear commitment to people when trust is lacking!

It is nearly impossible to see people as a worthwhile commitment when we don't really see them at all.

How Can Leaders Increase Commitment?

When we dig down, we see that the fear of commitment, based on a lack of trust, prevents employees from engaging - with each other, with the work they are doing, and with the company. When teams are disengaged we get low productivity and high turnover, among other things, and ultimately, profits suffer.

"Individual commitment to a group effort - that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work."

Vince Lombardi, American football coach

How do we combat this fear of commitment and help our employees to engage?

As leaders we need to create an environment of trust, where all employees feel heard and valued.

(For more, read my blog post on trust.)

First, take a look at your own actions.
Do you:

  • have your employees' best interests in mind?
  • engage with your people, openly and honestly?
  • behave with integrity and authenticity?
  • express appreciation?

The process starts with you. When you can answer YES to the above questions, you are building trust, and you can't help but increase your employees' level of commitment.

Next, think about these questions, related to your teams:

  • How often are team members passionate and unguarded in their discussion?
  • Are team meetings interesting and compelling?
  • During team meetings, are the most important issues discussed?
  • Are people comfortable voicing their opinions even at the risk of causing disagreement?
  • Do team members solicit one another's opinions during meetings?
  • Do team members communicate unpopular opinions to the group?
  • When conflict occurs, does the team deal with the issue before moving to another subject?

"Commitment leads to action. Action brings your dream closer."

Marcia Wieder, founder and CEO, Dream University

Finally, some questions to ask in evaluating whether or not your team has developed a high level of commitment.
Do we:

  • keep our egos in check?
  • let people know they are accepted and valued?
  • speak up openly and honestly when we disagree?
  • follow through on promises, keep our word, and meet expected standards?
  • confront behavioral problems directly?
  • put the success of the team or organization over our own?

Evaluating where your team stands in terms of these questions should give you an idea as to whether or not you are succeeding at committing to cohesion, teamwork, and valuing individuals in your workplace.

Challenge Yourself
  • Do you value commitment to people in your workplace?
  • What are some strategies you have found useful when trying to build a culture of commitment in your organization? How do you show your people that you value them and their contributions?

Stay tuned for the fourth post in our series on Fear and its impact in the workplace.

Part I -The Ugly Four-Letter Word: Fear

Part II - Fear of Conflict

Part III - Fear of Commitment

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