Joe Marchese

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The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.  All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.  A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no one could have dreamed would have come his way.  Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.  Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.  Begin it now.

                                                    --         Goethe

Pretty high brow stuff, eh.  It says that the most important element in realizing a goal is the very act of making the commitment to achieve the goal.  If the high brow tack puts you off, try Woody Allen, who said that “80% of success is showing up”.  [Woody’s reputation is too tarnished to lead with a quote from him, so he gets second billing.]  By showing up, I mean declaring to your colleagues and your customers that you can be counted on to achieve a goal just because you said so.  When you do, you put yourself on the field and not just in the stands.  [Think about that distinction – you’ll hear me refer to it a lot.  To those willing to join us on the field, I usually say: great – we need all the help we can get.  To those who prefer to heckle from the stands, I usually say: go to hell.]

Most organizations have a very full and ambitious agenda.  Customers and colleagues are asking us to show leadership in providing solutions that can make a material impact on our  businesses and lives.  Whenever we commit to doing something new, there is no objective evidence that we have or can ever deliver such results.  But if there is no rational basis, why are so many people counting on us?  How will we make it happen?

Any of us can demonstrate leadership by making a commitment or taking a stand for a possibility in the future that is not yet a reality.  The essence of making that commitment is courage, but there are other requirements for making commitments.  The first thing to realize is that you can take a stand by simply saying so. But we all know that words are a lot cheaper than actions.  [The often made reference is that you must "walk the talk" -- remember my blog on Service identified reliability as the most important element of service.]  You must vividly demonstrate that you can be counted on for what you say.  At that point, your relationship with what you say is altered.  Otherwise, you’re just “selling a bill of goods”,  and no one will want you on the team.

A stand is not founded on evidence, history, or even reason.  Some people believe that results are achieved only out of what you know or what you have already done.  That implies that you shouldn't try anything you don't already know how to do.  But achieving anything important always requires risk.

Commitments are the very foundation of action.  A commitment does not live in time, and thus has to be re-invented in an on-going way.  And a commitment is not invalidated by a failed objective.  So if, for example, missing the date on a deliverable suggests that the date is no longer key, think again.

Perhaps the most important benefit of living to a commitment is that it gives a genuine sense of purpose to our work.  That way there is more for each person than just the next deliverable.  We all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves, so committing to and making good on something important is essential to deriving satisfaction from our work.

Look at how the making of commitments has meant more toward success than any other single factor:

  JFK's commitment to a lunar landing by the end of the 60's at a time when the U.S. was barely able to conduct sub-orbital flights.

  Ford’s commitment to the successful introduction of the Taurus in eighteen months when the average new car cycle was five years.

  Michael Jordan’s unbelievable determination, repeatedly saying “just give me the ball” at a time when he should have been in the hospital emergency room, and single-handedly winning Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Championship series (arguably deflating the Utah Jazz, who never came back).

There are many examples, one corny-er than the next, which have the same message.  To those willing to stick their necks out and live by their commitments, great things can happen.  To those pre-occupied with having their heads chopped off, the future is a just a lot more predictable – apparently safer, but an endless replay of the past, and characterized by your customers and your boss loudly insisting that it’s not enough.  Which future is more appealing to you?

And to close with a quote (there's a change), I’ll offer the statement from Glenn Healy, for a brief period in 1997 the starting goaltender for the New York Rangers, when asked to describe the players' attitude during an improbable streak of great hockey during that year’s Stanley Cup playoffs:

If you don't believe, you don't belong.