“We create our fate every day . . . most of the ills we suffer from are directly traceable to our own behavior.” ― Henry Miller

No matter how committed one is to a particular course of action or set of values, often our own behaviours get in the way. In effect, we might want something but actually do the very things that stop us achieving it. A good example from daily life is the commitment we make to go on a diet after the excesses of the festive season, only to have our ambition thwarted as we reach for one of our favourite eats.

Leaders can behave in a similar fashion in their professional roles. For instance, a school leader might be committed to the principle that each child should be treated with respect. Yet when he or she sees colleagues treating pupils without due respect, the school leader ignores the behaviours, even though they run counter to his or her belief system. According to Kegan and Laskow Lahey – in their book The Way We Talk Can Change The Way We Work – these situations can arise because there is a competing commitment working in opposition to the original one. In this case, it might be that the leader wants to :

  • be seen as a supporter of colleagues.
  • avoid confrontation.

In a sense, the competing commitment trumps the original one. And of course, behind this competing commitment is usually an assumption. For instance, in this case, it is that if the school leader challenges colleagues over their disrespectful treatment of children then some or all of the following might happen:

  • Colleagues’ goodwill will be lost.
  • Colleagues’ respect for the leader will go.
  • The team spirit that the leader has so carefully built up will be damaged.

This paradox of the leader’s competing behaviour can be seen in a four-part Competing Commitments grid chart identifying four key scenarios:

  1.  Commitment

I am committed to the value or the importance of …the principle that each child should be treated with respect.

  1. What I’m doing or not doing that prevents my commitment from being fully realized.

When I see colleagues treating pupils without due respect, I ignore the behaviours, even though they run counter to my belief system.

  1. Competing Commitments

I may also be committed to … being seen as a supporter of colleagues avoiding confrontation at all costs.

  1. Big Assumption

I assume that if …I challenge colleagues over their disrespectful treatment of children, then some or all of the following might happen:

  • colleagues’ goodwill will be lost.
  • colleagues’ respect for me as a leader will go.
  • the team spirit that I have so carefully built up will be damaged.

The authors recommend a four-step process to overcome our BIG ASSUMPTIONS:

  1. Observe ourselves in relation to the big assumption.
  2. Actively look for experiences that cast doubt on the big assumption.
  3. Explore the history of the big assumption; and
  4. Design and run a safe, modest test of the big assumption.

In essence, our actions can run counter to our original commitment. Indeed, our actions themselves can be based on a counter-commitment behind which is a big assumption. Only by first addressing our big assumptions can we start changing our behaviours in order to align them with our original number 1 beliefs and commitments.

From Kegan and Laskow Lahey’s work, it is clear that we have to attack both our assumptions and our competing commitments in order to stop sabotaging our own principles and beliefs. In the example teased out above this might be about questioning the big assumption and/or developing different strategies.

For instance:

  • Is it really true that colleagues’ goodwill will be lost or respect will go or the team spirit will be damaged?

Or it might be about:

  • Can I come up with strategies that will keep colleagues on board with me and still allow me to remain true to my principles?

Or it could be:

  • I must remain true to my principles and not let my behaviours impede what is important.

This process does not necessarily lead to easy answers. However, it does let us reflect deeply on our own behaviours and actions and how they can get in the way of what is important for an individual, colleagues and the organization as a whole.

Challenging Oneself

Molly Cain writing for Forbes identified six Ways To Achieve Any Goal 

Look at it. A goal that you can actually see is massively more powerful than a goal you write down on a checklist.

Tell people. Making yourself accountable to your friends and family is one of the best ways to reach your goals. Sure, it’s uncomfortable to share your setbacks. But when you do, you’re going to get emails from friends who have experienced the same and they’ll get your mind back on track. And when you tell them about the milestones you reach, you’re going to get applause from people wishing they were you and reaching those same goals too.

When you tell people your goals, they will jump in the boat with you and help you get there. You will be shocked by the support you’ll get from your network. You’ll be even more surprised by the people who come out of the woodwork to join you in your journey or privately cheer you on, knowing what you’re going through.

Break it up. Many people abandon goals because they’re just too dang big. If you’ve done this to yourself, stop now. Change your game plan. The best way is to break it up into bite-sized chunks.

Select milestones to get there and make each of those a tiny goal. Breaking your big goal into small ones will make it a more feasible option for you.

Set a date. One of the best ways to knock out a goal is to put it on your calendar. If you put a stake in the ground and impose a date on yourself, you’re much more likely to reach it.

Be realistic. I’m sure if I asked everyone here, you’d all be just as interested in magically obtaining a bazillion dollars or finding the cure for cancer as I would. But there are some goals that are just too out of this world.. Simple but true…you’re more likely to reach goals that you realistically set for yourself. Don’t set yourself up for failure by letting your dreams get bigger than your abilities. That’s not to say don’t set high goals for yourself, just make sure they’re attainable.

Commit to yourself. Hey folks, there’s only one person in this goal-setting process that matters. You! You’re the one who has to put the hours in the work.

  • You’re the one who needs to stay late at the office to finish that task for your boss so you can score the promotion.
  • You’re the only one receiving the paycheck that will eventually pay you out of credit card debt. It’s all on you, my dear friend.

Commit to yourself and then re-commit yourself each time you fall because that definitely happens along the way.

There’s a great quote out there that says:

“It’s funny how day by day, nothing changes but when you look back everything is different.”

One year from now, you’ll be one year older, no matter what. What can you do with your goals today that will make looking back to today feel really different and really satisfying?

Our commitment to change is often canceled by another commitment we hold that has the effect of preventing the change.

However, when all is said and done, the only person with that commitment is YOU. This is the only way you can challenge your own behaviours. CHALLENGE YOURSELF first!

As of old: Be EMPOWERED and EXCEL.





  1. andrew mutyavaviri says:

    I strongly.believe e leaders attitude at e beginning of a task more thn anything else tht wil determine ones success in fulfiling ones duties.attitudes basically are based on assumptions.therefore inorder to change a leaders attitude wen faced w competin commitments nd big assumptions one must.first change ones assumptions.its an.issue of developing tht attitude tht there are more reasons why e leader shud succeed in toning dwn e competin commitments.nd those big assumptions.

Leave a Reply