Are you compliant or are you committed?


I was reading a great book a few years ago that had a positive impact on me: Change the Culture, Change the Game by Roger Connors and Tom Smith.

Connors and Smith said, “Too often, leaders attempt to change the way people act without changing the way they think. As a result, they get compliance, but not commitment; involvement, but not investment; and progress, but not lasting performance.”

When you think of the words compliance versus commitment, what comes to your mind? I believe that we need compliance in order to follow regulations, checklists, safety manuals, standards, etc., but compliance is just the tip of the iceberg.

Commitment begins when we have a team who believes in what we do.

Here are a couple of words that are synonymous with commitment:

• Promise (def): an assurance that you will or will not do something
• Pledge (def): a formal promise to do or not to do something
• Duty (def): a moral obligation
• Dedication (def): to commit oneself to a particular course of thought or action
• Devotion (def): to give or apply (one’s time, attention or self) entirely to a particular activity or cause

While serving as a squadron superintendent a few years ago, I had a crystallizing moment of personal and professional growth when a new commander assumed command of my squadron.

After a commander takes charge, a squadron survey is often given to Airmen to evaluate what the unit climate is. After a few months, the results came back. The commander called me into his office and reviewed the results with me. Most responses were well-given and good feedback was taken from the team. However, two Airmen had written down that I was unapproachable.

I was a little surprised at that but decided to do some self-reflection. Was there a time during the last year when I could have been unapproachable? I couldn’t answer that — I had to accept that during some time during my leadership tenure, I had a negative impact on two Airmen. That’s two too many.

I decided I was not committed enough and needed to make a concerted effort to ensure that I don’t let another Airman down. I made a promise to myself that no matter what’s going on in my life, I would not let that affect my attitude or approachability for Airmen. I changed my level of commitment.

We all took an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and to obey the orders of the President and the officers appointed over us. That’s where our commitment to our state, nation and community started — that oath was our pledge, our promise, our duty that we must uphold.

Perhaps you’re going through the motions, not feeling as if you’re making a difference. I tell you this: you are making a difference! Every one of us has something to contribute to the team.

As leaders at every echelon of the chain of command, we should do some self-reflection and assess our commitment level, personally and professionally. We need to remind ourselves that what we do is important and our country and democracy require our service. We are all blessed to serve in this great military organization and defend freedom every day.

Whatever your rank may be right now, whether it’s your first term or your last term in the Air Force, I ask you: are you compliant or are you committed?