Samer K. Taher | Managing Director
28th January, 2015
(Some of you will go through this article and then dismiss it as babble worth nothing more than its title. This is something I can do little about. What I can do is assure you I wrote it with the same conviction and candor I choose to live by. Those who know me well enough will confirm that).
Every senior executive I worked with stressed the value of commitment as a prerequisite for success. Every manager I reported to, tried their best to inculcate in me the importance of commitment in pursuing goals and dreams. They all kept telling me that without commitment, ambition remains ambition! None however took the time to tell me just what on earth commitment is? How do you get it or how do you know if you have it or not?
I tried ad nauseum to understand the meaning of the term by looking up the word in various dictionaries and on the net, but what I found created more confusion in my mind than answers. So I took the liberty of reflecting back on the notably committed people I had worked with or observed during my thirty years of experience, to see what it was these people had in common. What was it they did so uniquely and well to earn this distinguished label? The findings of my reflections, albeit unempirical, are interesting to say the least.
First of all, let us get the meaning of the word out of the way. In my modest opinion, commitment is a state-of-mind. It is neither a skill nor an attribute. When it's there, it's there and it's timeless; like gravity, except it propels people forward instead of pulling them down. It is not influenced by race, gender or background and it does not increase or decrease from one place to another. For the lucky ones, commitment gets turned on at one point in time, and it stays on until a person reaches outer space, which happens when the brain files for divorce from other body parts and wanders on its own. By then, commitment has little or no purpose to serve so it withers away quietly, along with its cousins, desire, passion, drive, etc. Commitment is also a zero sum game; some people have it, others don't; no gray zones, no fractions! I've never known a half-committed individual.
Second, commitment if you look around is easy to spot.
Committed people walk faster than others. They have a spring in their step which makes them look as if they’re on a moving walkway overtaking other people effortlessly. They’re not necessarily athletic; they simply have this inner engine which makes their stride almost twice as fast. Whether they are walking to, at, or from work, they have this sense of urgency which makes them appear to be chasing something or someone. You see them out and about, at airports and shopping malls and you wonder, why are they in such a hurry? Well, they’re not. They’re committed to get to wherever it is they’re trying to get so they can get it over with. For them, walking is a means to an end and they are committed to get to that end, as soon as physically possible, without running. Some people might call it hyperactivity. It’s not. It is commitment manifested physically. One of the committed people I currently have in my team walks so fast he can only wear shoes with rubber soles; if I force him to wear the ‘standard issue’ consulting type, he’d slip and fall and I would lose a serious chunk of my revenue as a result of his medical leave.
Committed folks are addicted to watches. They never leave home without one. They also surround themselves, wherever they exist, with big clocks easy to see and read from various angles. Why? They have this urgent need to know what time it is – all the time. A pundit once told me such a need was a likely symptom of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder so I did my research and found out otherwise. People with OCD get stressed by the notion of idle time of which committed folks have none. On the contrary, these folks are relaxed about time because they know exactly what they’re supposed to be doing, all the time. Once you hang around one of them, soon enough you’ll know what he or she will be doing and when. In a way, they are quite predictable because they have disciplined daily schedules which do not include unplanned idle time. These people hit the sack at the same time every night, especially on weekends and holidays. They do so because they are committed to their routines. They know that the best way to keep mind and body optimally synchronized is by committing to healthy habits, such as sleeping. They also wake up at the same time every day! No, they are not robots; they are simply committed. After they get up, they exercise, read a newspaper or take a shower. They do whatever they have committed to do as a matter of discipline because it’s engrained in their fibers. They have this uncanny ability to stick to their regimen. Rain or shine. Tired or not. They are committed.
As result, committed people are Swiss-punctual, regardless of the occasion. They go to work on time because they are committed to their employers. They believe they are paid to show up at a certain time and so they do – every working day – because they can’t fathom letting others down. They go to movies on time because they are committed to enjoying themselves and they go to appointments on time because they value responsibility and accountability. I once worked for a CEO who used to show up 15 minutes early to every meeting, appointment or social event. In pantry talk, some of his staff used to say he had plenty of time because he had nothing to do. They were so wrong. He ran a multi-million dollar business with hundreds of employees and he did it so well because he was, in addition to being a great leader, constantly aware of time. It was as if his brain was assembled by Rolex which incidentally he had several, unlike the pantry gossipers!
Committed people eat frequently. They have hearty meals every day, at the same time almost to the minute, because they are committed to their own wellness. They seem to know that neither mind nor body can make it through the grind of a day without regular refueling. They don’t wait until the tank reaches empty because they know that running on vapor will affect their commitment so they top up, frequently and regularly. Committed people also eat healthily. They are not ‘granolas’; they simply avoid foods that have the potential of sapping their energy and choose to feed on zappers – energy boosters that require little energy to digest, while providing ample. One of my many bosses during my years in the food business used to bring three meals and 2 snacks with him to the restaurant he managed! I used to brush that habit aside as weird until my waist size ballooned from 30 to 36 inches in less than 2 years of restaurant food while he remained as svelte as when I first met him. One day I made an effort to sneak a peek at what he ate during the 8 hour shift and what I discovered was likely taken out of a Martha Stewart cookbook. At 8 am sharp, he had oats with a fruity yogurt and at 10:30 am he snacked on a banana with raisins. At 12:30 pm he had some sort of fish with a salad on the side and at 3:00 pm he had walnuts and a piece of dark chocolate. Very dark. His dinner was at 5:00 pm, right before leaving home and it was a large bowl of soup which he washed with green tea. I stealthily watched him for two days and then stopped because I realized that catching him with something unhealthy was an exercise in futility.
Committed people dress predictably. If you take the time and effort to observe them for a few days, you will notice they stick to few colors. Their wardrobe has a sense of purpose which ensures their appearance is in line with their activity. Sharp suits to the office, casuals to the outdoors and track suits to the gym. They have this unusual need to look the part. They also don’t like to mix roles. I once tried to discuss a business problem with one of these bosses while we were on our way to the gym and the look he gave me said it all: “Samer, we had eight hours at the office today. Could you not have brought this up then and there?” That same boss was alien to trends and fashion. He stuck to a very narrow palette of colors; he alternated between gray and navy suits and I could tell, in advance, what he would be wearing before he showed up to work. Clockwork. He had three cars all of which were shades of gray. His office furniture was gray and so was his hair. At one point, I seriously believed he had it dyed to match his wardrobe!
Committed people write a lot. They don’t doodle. They simply write important things that come to mind. Once an idea pops up or a task presents itself, they commit it to paper or to zeroes and ones. If you know a committed individual and you happen to visit him or her at home or the office, you will soon notice how a PDA or a pen and a notepad are always at hand or within easy reach. It almost seems like they prefer to save their brain cells for matters more important than memorizing. Maybe this explains why committed folks always carry on them a to-do-list. Be it on a folded sheet of paper, a smart phone or an organizer, they use the list to commit their time and effort accordingly. They don't rely on memory because they seem to know, sooner or later, it will let them down. They are extremely organized because they are committed to results, not to boondoggling. My Martha Stewart manager had an endless list which he kept on him all the time. He also had a to-do-list for me and the other team members which he used to hand us every morning, right after he finished his oats! We used to call it the laundry list and we kept praying for its disappearance but deep down we knew it was never going to happen.
Committed people work regular hours. You don’t see them at the office before or after certain times. They are not workaholics. They know when to work and when to stop because they have this accurate fuel indicator which tells them how much energy is left within. If you observe their daily work schedules, you will notice they take regular breaks because they are committed to re-energizing; they know their engine needs to cool down so they use these well-timed ten-minute breaks during mid-morning and early afternoon to refill their fuel tanks because they are committed to go the distance. No half marathons, no compromises. Committed people are like bees; there’s a purpose which drives everything they do. Everything. They don't subscribe to spontaneity because they know that results come from consistency not from ad hockery. Committed people also finish work on time because they always have another role they need to get to before the day is over. They never take work home because they are committed to their families in mind and matter – once again, no half-baked loyalties.
Committed people spend quantity and quality time with their families. They like their evenings with their kids or spouses because they cherish the discussions, the nagging and the emotions. They prefer the look in the faces of their smiling or crying kids over that of the lifeless screens of their iPads, Galaxies or BlackBerrys. Why? Because committed people are real people, not wound-up machines feeding on pointless Facebook and WhatsApp messages. I recently googled the name of the CEO with the Rolex brain and the hits revealed how, unsurprisingly, he had no accounts on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter. Those were reserved for the guys in the pantry!
Most of all, committed people say what they will do and do what they say. It is shocking how you never have to remind them to do anything or follow up to see if they actually did it. In their dictionary, a commitment made is the equivalent of a job done and done well or to the best of their ability. That is their most notable characteristic. They do it with consistency and vigor because they have a commitment to the voice inside their heads watching their every move, making sure they remain committed.
That is my 2 cents on commitment! Now I know what you're thinking and frankly, I wish it were true but sadly it is not!