When we think of the fear of commitment, we usually picture a guy who’s been dating a girl since forever and won’t get off the dime, right? But there’s another kind of commitment phobia we need to address.
Forget about relationships. Think instead about deadlines, deliverables, benchmarks, and budgets. How willing are you to make commitments in business?
The Fear of Committing
I was CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers through the Great Recession. We could tell on the front end things were going to get tough, so we brought in some consultants to help us reframe the challenge and improve our performance.
I assembled the entire leadership team and went through the coaching program.
One key exercise involved leaders committing to specific outcomes. After individually examining what was needed in their part of the business, they would say, “I’m taking a stand for x, y, or z”—whatever their individual commitment was.
Some jumped in with both feet. But others were more reluctant. The point of the exercise was to get our leadership thinking about using their agency to move the business forward when it felt like everything was pushing against us. But some resisted making any commitment at all.
Here’s what I noticed: The people who wanted to hold back felt conflicted about taking a stand, even a little afraid. They wanted what was best for the business, but they were uneasy about committing.
I’ve seen this in dozens of contexts over the years. I bet you have too. And If you’re like me, you’ve probably also felt it from time to time.
4 Steps to Commit with Confidence
There’s a big difference between saying, “I’m going to try to do thus and so” and “I’m going to do thus and so.” And everyone knows it, including the people expecting us to commit, whether they’re bosses, colleagues, reports, or clients.
When people are expecting commitment, agreeing to try won’t cut it. But here’s the good news. Practically anyone can find the confidence they need to take a stand if they first follow these four steps:
- Objectify your emotions. When prompted for a commitment, we sometimes feel internal conflict—usually around unspoken fears. Maybe it’s the fear of failure, humiliation, or rejection. Whatever it is, we need to start by recognizing the emotion for what it is so we can create some distance and objectify it.
- Connect with the outcome. What happens if we make good on the commitment? If we can emotionally connect with the outcome we can leverage that positive feeling to deal with the negative one. Yes, failure and humiliation are bad news. But what about the joy, satisfaction, pride, and significance we’ll gain from winning? Imagine what we could accomplish if that drove us.
- Embrace your agency. Wherever you are in your business, you have power and influence unique to you. If you embrace this agency, you can accomplish far more than you might think—including making progress toward your goals and keeping your commitments.
- Act. The only way to accomplish something is to start. Seems obvious, but taking the leap is instrumental to completing the jump. We hesitate because we don’t know we can make it, but the only way to land on the other side is to leap from where you’re standing. Here’s how the Scottish mountain climber, W.H. Murray, put it:
The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would not 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 man could have dreamt would have come his way.
The jump triggers everything.
What if you can’t commit for a legitimate reason? Articulate that reason and suggest an alternative. And be proactive about it.
What we cannot do is shrink. We cannot afford to let our reluctance brand us as people who won’t take a stand. Commitment is essential in business. If you don’t have it, you won’t have any business.