How Leaders Convert Compliance Into Commitment

Jun 12, 2017 1 Min Read

Every leader yearns for a team that rises above merely “going through the motions” to get the job done. The dream is a team that distinguishes itself by its excellence, a team that displays enthusiasm, innovation, and a sense of ownership. The question, of course, is how to lead a team to that place of self-motivated brilliance.

Getting your team from where it is now to where you would like it to be might seem like a quantum leap. The first step is grasping a solid understanding of the difference between compliance and commitment.


Compliance: Doing just enough

Let’s start with compliance. Compliance is something you probably do every day. Some businesses, especially with a legal or human resources department, deal with compliance issues on a daily basis. It’s a matter of following regulations and rules to avoid trouble.

You probably practise compliance when you get into your car. You follow traffic rules about stopping and starting, turning left and right, and going forward or backward. Even though the speed limit is not always where you would personally set it, you know you must obey the law or face the consequences.

Compliance has its benefits. People stay safe if they follow the rules. Generally, we all know what to expect from other drivers on the road because they follow the rules.

Compliance is great about keeping order. Compliance is all about doing what you are supposed to do, in order to avoid unpleasant results. It’s pretty easy to get compliance – all you have to do is outline the penalties for breaking the rules, and most of your team will comply. They will show up on time; they will cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s, they will do just what you ask them to do… but nothing more.

That’s about the limit for compliance – if your team is stuck in mere compliance, achieving the extraordinary will remain just a dream.


Commitment: Going the extra mile

Commitment, on the other hand, is a powerful thing. Commitment is the quality that drives people to greatness. It leads to innovation, to boldness, to above-and-beyond-the-call-of-duty dedication, to excellent problem-solving, and to record-breaking results. Commitment stirs people’s sense of honour, purpose and urgency.

The movie Braveheart is a perfect example. William Wallace and his band of Scots were so committed to winning freedom for their people that they ran headlong into battle. They bound up their wounds and kept fighting. They faced fear and danger as heroes. They were even willing to be tortured and die to achieve their goal. They demonstrated commitment. If they had only followed out of compliance, they would have turned back at the first sign of trouble.


The transition

So, how do you move a team from compliance to commitment? It takes more than just delivering a rousing speech or waving a battle flag. It takes more than just a carrot or a stick. Commitment comes from seeing a connection between what you do and why you do it. Commitment springs from connecting action with purpose.

A great leader must take the time to help each team member identify their goals, and the motivation they will need to reach them. A great leader provides the example, support, and resources a team needs to stay the course.

Commitment takes more time and energy than compliance. It requires a leader to demonstrate commitment to the team and to each member’s success. It requires a sense of ownership, of purpose, and of steadfast determination on the part of a leader. It requires accountability – did you do what you said you would do? It looks at results rather than reasons.

Commitment requires more honour, more devotion, more honesty, and more courage than compliance – but it produces a team that accomplishes more than they ever imagined. Working with a team that demonstrates true commitment will spoil you forever for working with mere compliance.

The process, the results, and the legacy that are left behind will drive you to re-create the atmosphere of commitment with every team you lead from that point forward.

Watch our interview with Sanborn on The Leaderonomics Show:


Mark Sanborn is an international bestselling author and noted expert on leadership, team building, customer service and change. He helps motivate leaders at every level to turn the ordinary into extraordinary. To get in touch with Mark, email us at

Article first appeared on LinkedIn.

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