Commitment in Organizations

Much of my work with organizations involves creative review of one or more issues and then developing a strategic direction. Often the situation is complex, or is subject to regular change and is one where no single answer will suffice. Complexity is a function of our society today and is difficult to avoid when strategy-making. Complexity can be countered by crafting something that we call guiding principles. These are key to helping the organization to act in a consistent and coherent manner in situations of complexity or change.

Guiding principles complement, not displace, an organization’s detailed strategy and business plan. The detailed strategy and plan are the systems (or the outline for systems needed), while guiding principles are the commitment. Guiding principles can help a collection of people to understand the very essence of an idea, interpret it for their situation and then act on the idea in their own way.

Guiding principles can help us make sense of things through our own, personal lens. They keep us consistent and aligned to an overall identity or strategy and to do this they must hold particular meaning to you or your group. They are willingly applied by a collection of people. Principles help us to understand a general direction, then personally interpret and apply them to situations that arise afterward.

A good guiding principle has the following characteristics –

  • It achieves a great deal with very few words.
  • It is applicable across a range of situations, but interpretable at an individual level.
  • It is memorable.
  • It uses straightforward language.
  • It will often begin with an action verb to help decision-making.
  • It is one of a small number of principles. Having just one is probably not enough. More than six and you reduce their effectiveness of being memorable, straightforward and so forth.

A good example is the following – Everything in moderation, nothing in excess. This phrase can have a number of interpretations for different people. Some will see it as the need for a steady approach. Others might see that within this phrase, extreme peaks and troughs are fine – on occasion, but not regularly. In all cases, users of the principle will interpret its overall meaning to suit their specific situation. In brief, they will be able to commit to the general idea, in a unique way that has the most relevant meaning for them.

The key aspect of guiding principles is that they help a collection of people to commit on a personal level. They are very helpful in generating strategically-aligned momentum with a variety of stakeholders. This is important. Strategies and plans are written regularly, but it is rare indeed when a strategy is enacted with no interruptions or hiccups along the way.

German Field Marshall van Moltke, who was a brilliant military strategist, once said, ‘No battle plan survives contact with the enemy’. Moltke did not avoid the discipline of making strategic plans; indeed, he was apparently a very meticulous planner. What he did recognize, however, was that battle plans do not remain static. Any engagement is an emergent activity and strategies should be capable of dealing with emergence.

Guiding principles, I believe, are the bridge between outlining a system of strategic direction and building strategic commitment among those who will make the strategy a reality. Guiding principles give momentum to strategies by providing a clear way for individuals to make a commitment. The key connection of commitment, change and principles is the ability to receive the gist of a direction and to apply it personally. This makes sense. Regardless of the systems provided in each environment, it is individuals who must decide if, and how, they will personally commit and engage.

I am not advocating the end of strategy-making. No set of statements, principles or otherwise, should ever completely displace detailed strategic planning based on evidence, insights and genuine needs. However, I have seen how far-reaching the concepts of principles and individual commitment can be. The idealist in me asks if it is possible to ascribe or co-create a set of global guiding principles that serve fundamental concepts and which could be interpreted and applied by individuals? If whole regions, like Europe can do this, then perhaps there is hope for a global perspective to develop.

What would a global set of principles look like? How could they possibly encapsulate the enormous complexity of the planet we live on and yet be memorable and applicable for everyone (or those willing to participate) to embrace? Is it naïve or hopeful to think that agreeing to a set of world principles is possible? We will not know the answer to this, unless we attempt the debate. Below is a set of six principles which if applied at a personal level by individuals, might sharpen global focus on some significant and persistent issues of our time. These are suggestions* – the beginnings of a conversation about committing to key principles and working together to make them a reality.

  • 1. One Earth.
  • 2. Reduce, Reuse,Recycle.
  • 3. Treat Others as You Would Have Them treat you.
  • 4. Good Parenting is Priceless.
  • 5. Knowledge is Nothing Unless Shared.
  • 6. I Can 2.

Changing Our Minds

“The problems that exist in the world today cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them.”
– Einstein (attr.)

Most of us have heard this quotion which says that we are limited by the quality of our own reflections. That is, the paradigm we live from and the language we use determine what we see and do. Our conceptual framework constantly shapes the questions we ask, the targets we set for ourselves and the way that we measure success. While our language empowers us to create successful systems and to change them, our language also limits our thinking and perpetuates the problems we want to solve – if we are resorting to ‘reflexive fixes’ and failing to address the fundamentals that created the difficulty. Thus, the linguistic-mental framework that created our success becomes a prison locking us into actions that feed the problem rather than solve it. What we need is a new type of reflection.

Among the daily challenges for leaders should be the development of a new level of thinking that is not at the same tier where the problems were created. This applies to the leader as an individual, as well as to the organizations they manage. I would argue that due to the deep, systemic nature of current global problems, a ‘third order’ change is called for — beyond doing the same things more efficiently (1st order) or slightly changing the rules (2nd order). We need change of a fundamentally different nature.

Organizations need to be able to create that change and leaders are the essential catalysts in such a process. Leaders need to develop the ability to appropriately respond to rising complexities by creating the conditions that will stimulate fundamental change as it is needed. From business thinkers come suggestions for developing leadership competencies in the areas of ethics, aesthetics, and wisdom in response to early 21st century needs. In the brief space of this article I would like to touch on the merits of giving attention to the middle quality – aesthetics – as a leadership compentence.

Aesthetics and Business

There are at least three different ways that aesthetics and business meet: in the tactical importance of design and aesthetics for products and services, in attention for aesthetic leadership as a personal quality and as the strategic application of an aesthetic paradigm to rethink business and economy. “The MFA is the new MBA” is probably the most concise way of introducing the growing importance of ‘the right brain mind’ in business. Daniel Pink made this comment in the 2004 Harvard Business Review, when remarking on large corporations hiring promising arts school graduates in a market placing increasing importance on creativity.

Design and the ability to ‘create experience’ increasingly determine the value of products and services and this requires new competencies for key employees and managers. They must be able to identify, stimulate and organize the creative and narrative powers that shape these products and services. Already such competencies moved from ‘nice to have’, ‘need to have’.

Aesthetic Leadership

During the 1990’s, Pierre Guillet de Montoux started unlocking the deeper potential of aesthetics at the Stockholm School of Business. In Aesthetic Leadership- Managing Fields of Flow he talks about “aesthetic management” and describes how companies and managers can use their aesthetic abilities to envision their future and inspire their organizations. His treatment makes clear that aesthetics is part of a long historical development:. “Arthur Schopenhauer extended philosophy into a new market for metaphysics where art could work. Joseph Beuys extended art into society. Now the time has come to expand the art firm from … theatres to business on a vast aesthetic field…”. This trend is found in other business schools – Helsinki, Copenhagen, Oslo and Insead who are all adopting programs or activities researching the promise of aesthetics, while companies themselves are engaging in practical programs that draw from art appreciation in order to stimulate creativity and innovation.

Strategic Aesthetics and Third Order Change in Business

Matthieu Weggeman of the Netherlands identifies aesthetics as one of the distinguishing characteristic for a possible “Rhineland model’ of doing business, offsetting it against the Anglo Saxon approach. Back in 2006 and 2009 Göteborg University School of Business organized a conference “The Design of Prosperity: The Driving Forces of Our Present Future” and the Borås summit on “The Design of Change and Innovation”. The underlying question on the summit’s announcement asked “The dream of modernity of over: what happens to prosperity?”. During its lectures and workshops, Scandinavian CEO’s met with European artists to discuss possible relationships between art, design and new roads for prosperity, economics and business. Their aim was to see whether using a humanistic, cultural paradigm allowed new questions to be asked and new solutions to be formulated. This sort of development may seem elusive, but there is nothing trivial about aesthetics in business. Its development can mean the difference between success and failure, while its adoption might completely transform organizations. For leaders to benefit from this trend, however, they need to first be aware of it and able to distinguish its different levels/possible effects as well as having the competency to engage its support when necessary.

Ideally, leaders will be encouraged to develop their ‘rhapsodic mind’ and be able to think like a Leonardo da Vinci, or at least emulate this sensitivity with its requisite ability to respond appropriately and from a place of depth. To do so we will need to identify new sources of inspiration, develop new qualities of reflection in order to develop that potential into practical solutions for business and society at large.

Humanistic Leadership

Right now I am sitting at the airport in Copenhagen where I just watched a TV broadcast with Nelson Mandela, squeezed in between the football stories. Mr Mandela has been granted a long life; a significant life, a life of contribution and service to mankind. He serves as a beacon for all of us in terms of a great fellow man, a great leader and a great humanist.

It causes me to think of Europe today. Where are we heading? Who is our Nelson Mandela? Who serve as our lighthouse and provides our hope? Maybe this vacuum is actually the greatest leadership challenge we face in Europe today: We lack leaders that truly inspire our aspirations and who offer a sense of community and who facilitate a direction.

The European Union has been in many ways the great project of our generation. After a thousand years of wars and tragedies , Europe decided to start a project that would effectively prevent us from killing each other off again. A project that through trade, cooperation, mobility and economic growth would make Europe peaceful, as well as financially better off. But like all projects and organizations, we need a rationale – a purpose – that is legitimized and possibly renewed through coming generations otherwise its cohesiveness and coherence will run the risk of evaporating.

We have witnessed support and faith in the European project sliding. The economic crises, with the collapse in Greece as the most visible example, has put our faith and our capabilities to the test. What we need to see are leaders emerging, rising over the polarising rhetoric and articulating a common vision for us all to strive towards. This is the leadership deficit we are experiencing. What we need is an emergence of leaders with strong ethics and endowed with a purpose focused on positive change. Beware – this is not needed only for appointed leaders –  it is needed for us all. We must be the leaders we want to see in others. Now, there is an opportunity for us to re-examine what the European project could be about. We can identify the promise yet to be fulfilled of bringing the human side into the equation, setting our eyes towards the horizon and knowing that there is still more to be found.

Humanism + Leadership

Historically, humanism has taken root in times of turbulence, stress and upheaval.  Consider the eras  when  the  Renaissance and the Enlightenment emerged. Today’s upheaval comes in the form of the financial crisis we are experiencing, or, at the very least, its effects.  Is it just a financial crisis that we are experiencing or  is it not also a crisis in our societal order?  If so, then, this could be the time for a new humanism to take root.

Humanism as a philosophy places humans and humanity at the center, but it is not an egocentric concept. It is a deep personal conviction that by living an informed, conscious and compassionate life we realize our potential to do good for ourselves, others and mankind at large. This is something we can do and indeed have a duty to do. Leaders and leadership are central in the welfare, well-being and happiness of people
Leadership is itself  a timeless and universal idea no matter how differently it has been understood and applied.  Leadership is a way of making sense, making decisions, getting things done and of providing meaning, community and direction for others. It is also happens to be one of the most researched areas within business, one of the most common themes in management literature and one of the  most strived-for outcomes of MBA programs: the production of future leaders.

Getting things done through others takes leadership and it requires inflicting one’s will upon people and extending influence. However, leadership also has to be accepted since one is a leader  only tby the acceptance of others.  Someone cannot become a leader without having followers since it is the others that constitute the leader.   It is the course of action of others and  the result of their efforts, that is the true measure of leadership.

Humanistic Leadership

This form of leadership should be understood as humans having a value in and of themselves, not just as resources that can be calculated in relation to productivity.   Indeed, results without human growth are undesirable. Results, such as productivity and profit, are ways to measure human growth and not an end in themselves as not everything which is countable is accounted for when making up today’s balance sheets.

That which does comprise the philosophy of humanistic leadership rests upon and is guided by the following principles:

All individuals have the ability to be:

  • Value creators
  • Collaborators
  • Sensitive
  • Responsible

Furthermore, humanistic leadership has as its guiding principles that all individuals want to:  grow,    do good, live well, and create a better tomorrow. Bringing humanism into leadership means that it still needs to be be effective, deliver value and be competitive.   However, humanistic leadership recognizes that it is of and for the people and that it is about serving.  At its heart  it is about treating everyone with dignity and recognizing his or her significance. Humanistic leadership is about active values, utilizing potential and creating opportunities. Humanism requires leaders to set forth and show the way, and leadership requires the same from humanistic principles.

Achieve in Business Through Belief

Have you ever felt like starting your own business? One that makes money twenty four hours per day – even as you sleep? Great Idea – one of the best you’ve had. So what’s your big business idea? Have you thought of the specific opportunity you will be targeting. Have you thought about how much money you will make?

Of course you have – BUT, unless you really believe you can make a difference, don’t waste your time. Skip over this article – in fact ALL the resources on this site, and go back to what you were doing before. They’ll be of no help to you at all.


Well, the painful truth is…

Whether you think you can or you think you can’t – you will always prove yourself right

Yes – your beliefs will always win out. Have you ever noticed that trying hard to make a change in your life when, in your heart of hearts, you don’t really believe it, only causes you frustration and heartache?

The truth is you can only make a difference to your life if you believe you can. If you don’t truly have faith with all your heart and soul that you can do or have something in your life, then you won’t. Sure, you’ll have minor successes along the way, but you will abandon, sabotage, or even spoil them so that your demons (negative beliefs) will one-day say, “I told you so”.

How to STOP the ‘I Told You So’s

If you really want to start and run your own enterprise, then you must first change your beliefs in relation to it. Let’s face it, if you really and truly believed you could be a success in business – you already would. Why? – because you can only achieve what you believe.

That’s it, pure and simple. You need to go back to basics – back to the supporting belief. Just as if you’re building a house on the site of a toolshed. You’d be mad to simply replace the toolshed with your new house. No – you need first to clear the plot, dig down and put the foundations in. You need to support the development of your new construction. You need to make sure that the infrastructure is there – water pipes, waste collection, electricity supply, gas pipes and access to a road. Otherwise your house will quickly fall around you – if it ever gets completed in the first place.

So before you go chasing house-sized dreams, you’d better make sure they’re not supported by shed-sized beliefs. Otherwise you’ll end up like one of those lottery winners who can’t handle their fortune, and you’ll have to tell all your friends that success was the worst thing that ever happened to you.

How embarrassing would this be?

No, let’s start afresh and lay the foundations of a successful business here. Let us make the preparations that’ll support your success and happiness for the rest of your life. Let’s adopt the values beliefs that will serve you automatically. Remember that it’s just as much work to fail as it is to succeed – the only difference is in your mind. Change your mind, and you won’t have to ‘work’ at getting what you want – you’ll attract it.

The Law of Attraction is a powerful force

Have you ever noticed that certain people are somehow ‘luckier’ than others?
Did you know that the most successful people are headhunted while the rest of us are still reading the recruitment pages?

That’s The Law of Attraction. People attract the fabric of their lives just as they attarct their luck. Tell me this – have you ever seen an advertisement for Rolls Royce Cars? No? Why do you think that is then?

Because Rolls Royce Cars are the best – they attract their customers without having to go out and advertise. We all know something about their inherent qualities. We all know that a Rolls Royce is a big-ticket item, produced with the best engineering and components money can buy. Consequently, it attracts the type of customer who expects this level of quality and who can afford it.

So your homework is to see yourself in the Rolls Royce bracket, and really believe you belong there. Not necessarily someone who drives the car, but someone who deserves that type of quality and comfort in their lives.

If you really believe that you are a desirable, premium, top-of-the-line ‘product’ – and I mean really believe it – you’ll attract more of the same.

Stay Away From NOS People

Just as some people attract ‘lives of quiet desperation’ using NOS (Negativity On Steroids), many others attract business success using the flip side of the same techniques. Don’t be the one complaining about how life has used and abused you, or how ‘unlucky’ you are. NO! Be the opulent optimist who expects the best. You have an onerous responsibility after all – you are in charge of programming the most advanced computer that evolution has ever produced. So program wisely my friend. Your future business depends upon it.

Here’s something that I’ve adapted from my NLP days. Use it wisely because it’s more powerful that Voodoo.

Are you changing your posture, your focus or your internal voice for this belief? I bet you are!