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Committed Leadership: Are You the Chicken or the Pig?

There’s an old fable often applied to the business world called “The Chicken and The Pig.”

When it comes to producing ham and eggs, you need both a chicken and a pig to contribute to the end result.

However, between the two, there are distinct differences in their leadership contributions.

The pig had to lay down his very life to provide the ham portion of the meal. He is more than involved in the process. He is committed to it.

The chicken? The chicken doesn’t make nearly the same sacrifice as our poor friend, the pig. The chicken merely needs to pop out a few eggs — something that can be done on a regular basis. The chicken is involved in the meal; it’s not really committed to it.

It reminds me a lot of what can happen among leaders in the business world and what separates a leader from a Leader With Courage.


The Meaning Of True Commitment


Some leaders commit deeply to a project’s outcome. They aren’t just along for the ride. Their commitment shows every single day.

Let’s take a look at what that means:

  • They’re in the trenches through meetings and other ongoing conversations.
  • They know many of the finer details of the project.
  • They invest to ensure its success.
  • If anything gets off track, they’ll be right there getting their hands dirty to get things back in alignment.
  • When things go wrong, they step up and take the blame.


Why? Because they understand just how much is at stake. It’s not about their own gain, such as polishing their reputation. It’s about the greater good and what the impact of success or failure of this project means to the organization.

They understand that leadership is not the same as authority, and that it’s not conferred by their title, position or role.


Involvement: You’re There, But Hardly “All In”


Conversely, some leaders are prone to say things such as, “Just keep me in the loop on how it’s going.” They’re involved, but not truly committed.

When the organization struggles to make progress, this type of leader will often quickly point how it’s due something else, such as insufficient funding, lack of a supplier’s foresight or lack of a strong talent bench.

At that point, the leader is only involved. There’s some dedication, but true commitment for changing the status quo takes more than talk. It requires doing.

If we focus on the company that requires a stronger bench of talent, there’s an essential opportunity for leadership to be far more engaged. Could this bench strength — and, ultimately, the next generation of leadership — be built from within? It’s a distinct possibility.

So what are the current leaders doing to identify and develop emerging talent? If it’s nothing or next to nothing, then there is no commitment.


Leadership, Pig-Style


Commitment entails investing in an ongoing program to identify, prepare and elevate future leaders to their highest potential. The existing leadership sees and understands this effort as vital to attracting and retaining outstanding people, building a sustainable business and improving performance.

In other words, leadership development is part of their company culture and it is the way they do business.


Commitment Starts At The Top


When we’re talking to executives about their emerging leaders, it’s not unusual for us to hear:

“Yes, our emerging leaders really need some guidance. As for me, I don’t need the help because I’ve been in the C-suite and the corporate world for decades so this won’t help me. But them? They definitely need support and coaching.”

Well, with all due respect, everybody needs to show commitment to any initiative that improves the company.

It starts at the very top of the organization. If the rest of the team gets an — “I’m too good to get my hands dirty, but I want to know what’s going on.” — feel from an executive, don’t expect 100% buy-in to the initiative.

That’s involvement. Not commitment.


The Commitment To Grooming Successors


As we’re talking about leadership development with companies, it’s very natural for the conversation to veer into succession planning. Here again, we see the question arise:

Q: Are you committed or are you involved?

  • “Oh, we have a succession plan in place.”

Yes — but have you truly identified:

  • What do your key people need to do to be ready for that next level of responsibility?
  • What experiences will they need?
  • What challenges they’ll face?
    • If they aren’t ready now, what do we need to do to prepare them?
  • How do our existing leaders’ actions today demonstrate their commitment to preparing our high-potential, future leaders for success?

If a company only puts names on a succession plan, there’s involvement; but, the in-depth discussions and tangible, visible actions of sustained commitment are missing.


Leaders Commit Through it All


Let’s also talk about business continuity planning— which absolutely deserves commitment — but, in reality, may receive only a half-hearted level of involvement from vital people in the company.

Admittedly, it is hard to think about what will happen to the company when some unthinkable outside force wreaks havoc with normal business operations.

  • A terrorist attack on the level of the next 9/11.
  • A tornado or fire.
  • The next Hurricane Katrina.
  • A nationwide cyberattack.

These aren’t happy subjects to consider, but necessary ones. Yet, if you say to most executives: “Let me see your business continuity plan;” it’s likely what’s pulled out and dusted off is a document dated September 12th, 2001.

It probably hasn’t been reviewed or updated since first prepared, and even less likely to have been rehearsed or tested.

Sure, commitment to it might have been there at some point in the past but, since that time, commitment has waned. Now it’s involvement (at best) built on a false sense of being addressed.

Commitment is saying,

“We have to make this a top priority for the long-term. We’re going to address it together right now and keep it current by revisiting it every year with a ‘when’ not ‘if’ attitude. Because the minute we don’t have a plan for the unthinkable, we’re in trouble. Even if we just had the once-in-a-century flood last year, what are we going to do if that kind of event happens again tomorrow?”

You’re not just talking about preventative action planning. You’re also thinking through what happens if your most significant preventative actions fail. That’s contingency planning.


How Often Should Commitment Happen? All The Time.

How Often Does It? Well…


Just as importantly, review your plan at least once a year — and every time a seismic change occurs within the company impacting key personnel. Too many companies have a succession plan or business continuity plan that is more than five years old. No one has even looked at it since first prepared, or the founding of the company.

Imagine you’re in this position:

  • You haven’t refreshed your succession plan.
  • You haven’t committed to developing your leaders.
  • You don’t know what your business continuity plan says.

Now try to answer every possible “what-if,” such as:

  • What if… the factory gets hit by a tornado?
  • All key executives are on the same airplane that goes down?
  • What happens next if one key executive surprises us all by announcing his retirement?


Try a Little Self-Awareness


Simply put: leaders lead by example, including a display of what commitment is and is not. Their attitudes and behaviors are amplified throughout the organization.

For instance, have you ever been in a meeting with someone who regularly checked their email in front of you? How about in a restaurant, when they constantly looked around to see who else they knew? Or even worse, what about the person who cancels your one-on-one meeting at the last minute, even though he or she requested it (and it’s been on the calendar for three weeks)?

For some executives, this is the way they do business on a regular basis. What does their behavior tell others about commitment? Does that attitude flow into other areas of leadership? Absolutely.

This notion of — “I’ll only commit to what I think is important and you people can handle the rest” — extends to a lot of other aspects in the realm of self-awareness.


Don’t Be the Chicken


If we return to our analogy early on of the committed pig versus the involved chicken, consider this:

The pig clearly didn’t care about himself in order to produce the end result, right?

By the same token, you’re most successful as a leader when others are successful. It isn’t about making yourself look better; leadership is about caring and growing others. Therefore, achieving the highest level of success rarely comes from involvement alone. It comes when you’re helping others and committed to their success.


It’s Time To Start Doing. So, Let’s Commit To Something Greater.


If you’re going to strengthen your credibility as a leader, you can’t just talk about commitment. You have to show it yourself.

Start with you and your direct reports taking the free leadership self-assessment from The Leading With Courage? Academy. You’ll receive insights into 26 attributes, 9 behaviors and 4 qualities of effective leaders and managers.

It takes five minutes.

Start being the leader you can and want to become, today.

About Lee Eisenstaedt

Lee Eisenstaedt is the Co-Founder of the Leading With Courage℠ Academy and author of the Amazon best seller, "Being A Leader With Courage." Lee helps new and emerging leaders make a bigger impact, sooner by increasing the self-awareness of their strengths and blind spots through the Academy’s assessments, workshops, and executive coaching. He has also…

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