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Your Commitment Problem? It's Actually a Trust Problem

Encouraging your leadership team to weigh in on important decisions--and engage in healthy conflict--will engage them in ways you never imagined. Here's how to get started.
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Why is it that CEOs so often feel their leadership teams don't take full ownership of decisions and strategies? Recently, the CEO of a small manufacturing company told me this about his leadership team: "They don't act like the leaders they're paid to be. Sure, they do their jobs. They show up to meetings. Sometimes they give input. Technically, it's hard to really find fault with them. They're great at taking direction. They run their departments. But they're not really all in the way I am and the way I want them to be. I want to see them care as deeply as I do. I want to feel their energy and passion. I want them to be entrepreneurial, like me."

"What's the matter with them?" he asked. "Or is it me?"

We all know leadership takes commitment. But in his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni talks about extending that commitment to the entire top team through trust, productive debate, and mutual commitment.

Committed team members know the best ideas are on table--either because they've put them there or because they've heard their colleagues do so. They've discussed and even argued over (we call it healthy conflict) options in order to be certain everyone understands the best available path forward. And, more importantly, committed team members know that if they start moving in the wrong direction, someone will call it out and the team will address any missteps. In other words, they've weighed in to buy in, and they're committed to an outcome that’s best for the entire organization. This is a hugely important piece of the "ownership" or leadership pie.

CEOs who engage their teams in decisions will benefit from an unparalleled level of commitment that has very little to do with salaries or compensation. If you don't believe me, put it through your own filter: Are you more motivated by dollars or by making something you believe in happen?

Commitment ultimately emerges from trust and openness. Does the leader encourage an open dialogue about important issues so that team members can all stand behind the solution? Or does the leader tell her team what to do and then sit back wondering why they're not more excited about it? I've seen this time and again in my work. What looks like a commitment problem is often a trust problem.

I recently worked with a team that had trouble getting stuff done. The leader was consistently underwhelmed by the speed at which his leadership team moved. We started to work through the organizational health model and get the exec team to discuss important strategic topics. Before long, it became clear that several team members didn't believe in the leader's strategic direction. They weren't slow moving; they were actually moving in a different direction!

I'm not advocating group decision making or consensus-driven leadership. The leader has the power to decide. But the leader also has the obligation to hear input from her team--and make adjustments or changes to strategies as warranted. The team's job is to then commit and act.

To learn more about organizational health, tune in to this webinar with Jeff Gibson from Patrick Lencioni's Table Group on Friday, February 28, at 1 pm EST.

Last updated: Feb 28, 2014

KRISTINE KERN | Principal consultant, the Table Group

Kristine Kern is a principal consultant with the Table Group, a firm founded by Patrick Lencioni. She works with executive teams to help them achieve organizational health and increase productivity. kristine.kern@tablegroupconsulting.com




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