Making requests of others and fulfilling your commitments is how you learn to earn trust and be trusting. Trust is a foundational element of our relationships — both professional and personal.

There is no leadership without the capacity for people to trust your words and actions.

Without the phenomena of commitment, there would be no basis to assess trustworthiness.

Without the ability to assess trust, you are unable to:

  • gain a person’s confidence in your leadership ability
  • demonstrate that your word can be believed, and
  • form stable long-term personal and professional relationships.

The word commitment is usually used in two primary contexts.

  • The most common type of commitment is an actionable commitment. It consists of making a promise that requires specific action in order to fulfill a request or perhaps the requirements of a job position.  
  • Another type of commitment people make is a relational commitment. This type of commitment endures over a long period of time and is founded on a relationship such as marriage or having a family. A relational commitment is similar to an actionable promise because each one is made to another person and action is required in order to fulfill them. The difference is that a relational promise is most often a lifetime commitment – one that takes multiple smaller actions over a long period of time to fulfill. And, perhaps it might only be declared or recognized as fulfilled when one party dies.

A third type of commitment exists that acts as a beacon for identifying whether or not you can be trusted to consistently fulfill actionable and relational promises.

This type of commitment is imperative to living life and leading with integrity. It requires fortitude, grit, clarity, self-confidence, and reveals your authentic self. It’s based on principle, values, and inner strength.

I call it the character commitment.

Below you will find an expanded description for each of the three types of commitments.

Actionable Commitments

Actionable commitments are perhaps the easiest to fulfill. They are based on the formula: Who will do what by when? When a request or agreement is made, there is an action that must be taken in order to complete the commitment.

To successfully complete an actionable commitment, both parties must clarify their understanding of the result to be delivered. Once both parties are clear on the result to be delivered by and for both parties, then the criteria — or conditions for satisfaction — can be determined.

Criteria will often include skills, knowledge, and materials. Both parties (the requester and the requested) develop criteria to be agreed upon. It is imperative that both parties are clear in their needs. Let’s say that you made a request of one of your direct reports and that person agreed to satisfy that request. As the requester or customer for the promise, you must know what the desired and achievable result will look like.  The person who agrees to fulfill the promise, the performer, must determine the type of support he or she will need from you and what form of exchange or declaration is appropriate for delivering your desired result.

Think about a time you asked someone to procure an item for a project. Did you just name the item and send the person on his or her way?  It’s doubtful. You might have provided a price range, a size or color specification, and/or the quantity. When criteria are thought out and agreed upon, there is greater likelihood that the desired result will be produced. When the conditions for satisfaction are not clearly defined and understood, there is greater likelihood that the desired result will not be produced.

Once criteria are agreed upon, the performer can take the actions necessary to fulfill the commitment — and the customer can provide the support necessary for the performer to successfully take action. Once the performer has fulfilled the promise, the customer then declares satisfaction and makes whatever exchange is agreed upon (i.e. payment, a promotion, positive acknowledgement, etc.).

Actionable commitments support forward motion and progress. They might include some form of customer service, the accomplishment of a project, or the development of a new service. Regardless of the focus of the commitment, by engaging in one you build trust, expertise, and accountability.

Relational Commitments

A relational commitment is based upon a long-term agreement, sometimes for the better part of a lifetime. It is not a commitment to consider lightly nor is it based upon a single negotiated set of actions. The popular phrase ‘commitment phobic’ is used to when referring to people who have difficulty or avoid making relational commitments. Perhaps you know someone like this.

Relational commitments call on you to commit concurrently to the tenets of loyalty and trust, willingness to grow, learn, and develop, patience and compassion, weathering breakdowns and allowing breakthroughs, and reciprocity – the capacity to give and receive.

The intrigue of a relational commitment is its non-dual nature.  A relational commitment is made to another person and in partnership with that person.  It is also made without being certain of what lies in the future and will evolve over time.

How do relational commitments pertain to leadership?

Leadership requires that you practice the same tenets: loyalty and trust, willingness to grow, learn, and develop, patience and compassion, weathering breakdowns and allowing breakthroughs, and reciprocity.

Although leadership is often thought of as a professional role — and people tend to hesitate to mix professional and personal constructs — in its purest form, it’s a way of interacting and building relationship with people. It is not a temporary way to act or be. It is permanent – it reflects on you and how you live life and perform your work for the entirety of both.

Character Commitments

A character commitment is made to yourself in regards to how to approach your life, conduct yourself as a human being, and treat each situation and person that you encounter. This commitment impacts all others. It is the one commitment for which you are judged for most frequently and for the long term. It is transparent in words and actions.

And, it is often missing as a key practice. Yet, it is pivotal.

What is entailed in making a character commitment? You must have an understanding of:

  • ethical behavior and
  • the set of values that are most important to you.

Both act as metrics for gauging character.  Values along with ethics are the keystones upon which character is built.

Ethics serve as a guide to what is morally considered ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ They have a strong tie to social culture, are usually governed by the legal system, and influenced heavily by religious scripture. When you engage in behavior that is considered as ‘wrong’ or unethical, it impacts your capacity to build trust, the health of your relationships, and others judgment of you – especially their desire to be associated with you or not. When you engage in behavior that society considers as ‘right’ or ethical, you are considered as a person with good character and trustworthy.

Values are qualities that you choose as important to you. Each value represents a quality and associated behavior with which you identify yourself and your leadership style.

For example, if kindness is important to you, then by engaging in kind behavior you would be acting in accordance with that value in a transparent manner that would be obvious to the people in your work, family, and social communities. There are usually five to eight values that you identify as imperative for being the person and leader you are or want to become. When you act in alignment with your values, you are acting with integrity.

Broad Takeaways

Each of the commitments discussed above are inherent to being human. You probably think about or engage in at least one of these types of commitments regularly.

Leadership is also a human phenomenon. And, because it is, these types of commitments are inherent to its practice. They are a basis for taking steps forward, achieving your vision, building healthy relationships, and building a stable foundation – all of which are necessary for a leader like you to maximize effectiveness.

The more practiced you become creating and fulfilling these commitments, the more full, accomplished, effective, and satisfied you can be.

About Reneé Freedman

Reneé Freedman, PCC, MSEd., is a global activist, change-maker, coach, and collaboration designer. She coaches leaders whose vision for making a global impact is too compelling for them to ignore and, instead, are driven by their passion to act upon it. As a coach skilled in multiple modalities, she is known for being the consummate thinking partner, for hearing what is unsaid, and for putting the most pivotal conversation on the table. Her clients consistently laud her as the best listener they know. Additionally, Renee grounds her work by introducing simple-to-apply models and by building bridges between paradoxical points of view in order to introduce fresh perspectives, new paths of action, and better outcomes. Her work is based on her deep belief that every individual is a potential game changer. Renee received her coaching certifications from the International Coach Federation, Institute of Generative Leadership, Newfield Network, New Ventures West, and the Fielding Institute. She holds certifications from the Harvard Immunity to Change program, Spiral Dynamics, and the Integral Institute. In addition to coaching, Renee has founded coaching service programs for organizations committed to social impact such as TED, Unreasonable Institute, Starting Bloc, and the Sundance Institute’s Female Filmmaker Initiative.

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