Today I want to delve into purpose and commitment. The two go hand in hand when it comes to defining leadership. One of the most interesting and thought provoking revelations about commitment to me, is that contrary to how we may imagine it, to be a remote and sometimes untenable attribute, it is indeed the most pervasive in our lives. Whatever we have in our existence around an area of life that is important to us, is a true reflection of what our commitment is in that area.
Commitment does not come from conscious decision, it is driven by the unconscious and manifests in our actions. It is connected to values in the sense that we do not think about our values mostly, we act within them. We only begin to notice our values when they are violated.
Purpose gives life to commitment. The greater the purpose, the deeper the commitment becomes. It almost echos that old adage, that of whom much is given, more is expected. Again, I go back to the various levels at which leadership happens. Starting from self, to interpersonal relationships, small groups, communities, countries, continent and the world at large. Is it possible to have a purpose that transcends all these levels? By all means yes! Do we have to engage at all these levels? Not necessarily.
I have often wondered why some people stood out in their purpose to the extent that they did. What makes some people risk life and limb and everything in between for a cause, a goal, even for another person or people? Why did they not just accept their situation and make the best of it? I think George Bernard Shaw summarizes it well when he says ” The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man ” In my view, what differentiates leadership is the powerful combination of commitment and purpose.
Circumstances may change but commitment remains true and it is often what leads to the tipping point in any situation. Staying true to a cause can be daunting in the face of a serious and often powerful obstacles. In the years gone by there were such struggles against slavery, colonialism, political oppression, apartheid. What led to victory every time was not the strategy deployed on the resources available. In many cases there were none. In my view, it was the quality of conviction and commitment to the ideal. Most of the leaders in these struggles, did not compromise on their ideals. Many suffered the curse of the visionary, which is to identify with an outcome which one has no idea how it will be achieved.
The struggles that we face today are less obvious. The “enemy ” is amorphous, the issues are riddled in shades of grey. Yet we still have poverty, corruption, climate change and other seemingly insurmountable challenges that we need to face. Commitment is still the key that gives access to finding solutions, no matter the magnitude. It is a long term endeavour and not a straight path but once the purpose is known and defined then commitment is what will get one over the myriad of obstacles that lie in the way.