Leadership Limerick: Generate Commitment Instead of Enforcing Compliance

Every Monday, I offer a leadership limerick, highlighting an idea or strategy about effective leadership in limerick form. Searching for leadership limerick will identify previous posts.

To commit goes beyond to comply
It means that you believe in the why

Compliance is to follow the rule
Like the speed limit or attendance at school

And people do so with a very big sigh

A squad car on the side of the road gets most people to slow down.  That reflects a desire to avoid a fine and ticket more than a commitment to the speed limit.  As author Peter Block notes in his book The Answer to How is Yes, “If my commitment is conditional on your response, or on your delivery of a promise, then it never really was a commitment. It was a deal.”

When it comes to getting your kids to do what you want, "because I said so" is always an option you can try to enforce.  And while the same holds true in the workplace, it puts you as a manager or leader in the position of being the enforcer, the squad car on the side of the road.  Colleagues jump to attention and do the right thing when you're in range, but then revert back to their normal routines as soon as you are out of sight.

Compliance therefore is temporal, in place when the threat of punishment is present.  But long-term effectiveness requires a self-enforced commitment to a strategy, policy, or routine.  It's less about "have to" and more about "want to." I do something not merely because I was told to or because I am afraid of getting in trouble if I don't.  I do it because I believe it is the right thing to do. And that conviction requires an understanding of the purpose and relevance behind the practice. It more likely develops through discussion and dialogue, not a manager's monologue or mandate.

It's hard to be truly committed to a what if you don't understand or believe in the value of the why.  You'll have to write fewer tickets to drive others' performance if you focus more on the latter when seeking to correct the former.