Friday, July 17, 2009

Commit & Deliver

You want to be a leader these days means you'll need to get your head around two big ideas. One is commit. The other is deliver.

Committing is something a lot of people in business, academia, government, relationships, spend a lot of time, money, energy avoiding.

I learned this from Sam the Intern, who works in my office. I asked Sam to figure something out once this summer. Sam's simple reply: "I'm on it."


This was six weeks ago. The quick comeback from Sam the Intern still rings in my head. So does the fact that he delivered on his "I'm on it" commitment.

I can't think the last time I heard a bunch of management honchos say during a meeting: " I'm on it." Usually they say, "Let's get the consultants on it." Why do they say that?

So they don't have to commit. So they can come up with a lot of questions, reasons, data for not doing something. So they can keep their honcho paychecks.

Here's the thing they don't lecture about and teach you at MBA schools: Most people who end up in leadership positions are pretty scared in their roles. And it's really tough to commit -- to tell the group "I'm on it" when you're running scared. It is why a lot of good companies fail and potentially great movements never get going.

Beating back fear and then committing is why a lot of little, great ideas become big, great ideas, movements, companies. Think of Bill Gates telling the world he wanted a computer on every desk. Or John Kennedy saying we're going to put a human on the moon in 10 years. Or the Google founders organizing the world's information. Talk about commitment.

This is the kind of stuff everyone of us is born to do. All it takes is taking out fear. Eliminate fear and we'll eliminate a lot of problems on Earth: hunger, poverty, illiteracy, pollution, etc.

I hope future leaders are taught how to look fear in the eye at MBA schools and other kinds of leadership academies in the U.S. We're gonna win for a long time if our leaders learn how to not be so scared and commit to big ideas. And then deliver.

Delivery is a solo sport, compared to commitment (which is a crowd sport where the crowd usually tries to avoid committing.) Sure it takes a lot of people to get a human on the moon. But somewhere there's a leader standing in the middle of all the confusion, ambiguity, tension holding firm, risking much, and driving to deliver something meaningful.

Do you know that feeling? Here's one story: A few years back, my software company cranked budgets really tight. Of course they wanted my commitment to maintain marketing communications service delivery. What to do in that situation?

I committed. And then moved all creative design work for all marketing communications to India. A lot of folks thought this was nuts. Truthfully, I mostly thought they might be right. Thankfully, a few of us in Bangalore and in the U.S. kept at it. And in the end, we hit quality targets and drove spend to about 10 cents on the dollar. We committed. Then delivered. To this day, it still works for the firm.

I'm thankful for Sam the Intern and his "I'm on it" attitude of commit and deliver. I suspect he may be a leader some day. I hope Sam and his contempories don't unlearn this during their careers.

"I'm on it"....isn't that a great attitude for current and future Americans to embrace? Doesn't a time like this mean all of us are going to have to commit and deliver? How do you do this now?


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1 comment:

  1. I agree with your analysis

    Another "shortcoming" of leaders is:
    Lack of Focus - too busy protecting their backside
    Lack of Action - no commitment
    Fear - of losing their job/stature
    Isolation - afraid to use peers and/or confidants to work through challenges...

    Happy New Year