Where does the constant talk about leadership in organizations come from? It comes from the one thing that companies want most from their managers: emotional commitment.
A manager’s emotional commitment is the ultimate trigger for their discretionary effort, worth more than financial, intellectual and physical commitment combined. It’s the kind of commitment that solves unsolvable problems, creates energy when all energy has been expended, and ignites emotional commitment in others, like employees, teams and customers. Emotional commitment means unchecked, unvarnished devotion to the company and its success; any legendary organizational performance is the result of emotionally committed managers. Leaders are those rare human beings who have emotional commitment to a cause and can inspire it in others.
Any manager can appear fully productive and enthusiastic simply because they’re financially, intellectually and physically committed. But if you’ve ever witnessed a human being emotionally committed to a cause—working like they’re being paid a million when they’re not being paid a dime—you know there’s a difference and you know it’s big. It may be big but it’s not easy.
The key neurobiological source of emotional commitment comes from the ability to live one’s own deepest values in a relationship or environment. For managers, this means the relationship with their company and their environment at work. Manager may be a great job to have but imbedded in any manager’s job description is the constant requirement to subordinate or even compromise personal values in favor of company priorities. What the company wants done and how it wants it done must regularly take precedence over personal priorities. Serve your company first, this is what it means to be a manager. But this is not what it means to be a real leader.
Real leaders are people who live their deepest personal values without compromise and they use those values to make life better for others—this is why people become leaders and why people follow leaders. Leaders also remain the model of human beings driven to emotional commitment, against all odds and, if necessary, against all protective common sense, with the ability to create the same in others. It’s real leaders that a company needs most if the organization is going to thrive.
Yet leadership in its truest form is seen as a hectic proposition, a messy thing, and for all its tempting benefits, uncertain and uncontrollable. The intuitive corporate concern is that real leaders won’t carry the company values wallet card; they’ll carry their own and they’ll burn the corporate house down in order to advance their cause. Allowing real leaders to thoroughly inhabit the system could destroy the system. They’ll reorder the balance of power without considering practical consequences. This concern can be defined as: reasonable. That’s what genuine, powerful leaders have often done throughout history.
But only if destroying the system was the purpose of their leadership. What if it were to protect the system? What if real leaders, transformed from throughout the ranks of a company’s managers, flourished in the belief that to protect the company was to protect their ability to gain the personal benefits of leadership—to live their most important personal values every day at work?
New truth: The cause cannot always be the company; instead, it must also be managers’ pursuit of their own values within the company. This isn’t licensing chaos; it is ensuring control. There is no more reliable way for the company to become the cause than by not always insisting on being the cause.
Human behavior is only unpredictable and dangerous if you don’t start from humanity in the first place. To safely trust managers a company must allow itself to be the best possible place for managers to practice true fulfillment, to live their values, and to realize deep connectivity and purpose.
This is the system managers will protect. This is the system managers dream about.
Stan Slap has revolutionized performance for many of the world’s most successful, demanding organizations. His international consulting company, slap, specializes in achieving ferocious commitment in manager, employee, and customer cultures––the three groups that decide the success of any business. His client list ranges from Google to Viacom. Stan’s first book, Bury My Heart at Conference Room B, topped bestseller lists including New York Times, Wall St. Journal and USA Today. He is at work on his second book and, whenever he can, lives in San Francisco. slapcompany.com