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Dialog 6: When people are not committed


Some of the best examples of commitment come from the world of sports. For example, former All-Pro wide receiver Paul Warfield said that, while catching passes, "I would block out everything else that was occurring. It was just the football, and I had an obsession with catching it."

It's easy for million-dollar players to feel committed, but how does the leader motivate those who make considerably less? That's the task you have before you as you meet with a colleague who has lost interest in the job.


Before you can counsel such an individual, you need to determine what motivates him and whether the job still offers him this motivation. In other words, are his Fires still Lit? Then, determine whether he's Burned Up or Burned Out. Not until you know what's behind his actions can you advise him.

Experience Shows

The dialogs, by necessity, present a condensed view of certain problems. Your own one-on-one interactions will probably be more exploratory and longer than those presented here.

Further Considerations

Do a little reading about ways to recognize, reward, and reenergize employees. Demonstrate some creative leadership by implementing one new idea a month.

Be Careful

Boredom can be fatal. Consider George Eastman who, having brought his company (Kodak) exactly to where he wanted it, subsequently committed suicide. The note found beside his body simply read, "My work is done." The actor George Sanders left a similar note. Part of your responsibility as a leader is to keep boredom from darkening the workplace door.

The quality movement provided us with the concept of continuous improvement. No matter how well your department is doing, there are always things that could be done better. These things will often serve as the spur needed to make work interesting again.

Figure 3.6 When People Are Not Committed.

In a dialog such as the one you engaged your co-worker in, listen carefully. Each of the complaints you hear cited is an improvement project in disguise.

What the Research Shows

Mortimer R. Feinberg, writing in Effective Psychology for Managers (Prentice Hall, 1965), tells of a factory experiment with two groups of unskilled laborers. With the first, he gave a goal and said he expected it to be reached in 12 weeks. For the second group, each week he set incrementally increased goals. The short-term goals that were elevated slightly each week led to much greater productivity.

Ask Yourself

  • What are the telltale signs of burnout?
  • If stress is the problem, is it temporary or ingrained in the culture?
  • How do the perpetually motivated maintain their enthusiasm?
  • How would I rate my own degree of commitment?
  • How does a person know when it's time to get out?
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