My grandfather was an entrepreneur, and I grew up working in our family businesses. When I was young, we had a heavy equipment repair shop, and a family farm, and a sawmill. When the repair shop burned down and the sawmill went bankrupt, my grandfather started an electrical contracting business, and a mini storage business, and on and on. My grandfather’s businesses would last for a few years or sometimes a decade or two, but eventually they would collapse, partly because he expected compliance from his employees and his family. He was an amazing man in many ways, but he couldn’t, wouldn’t, or didn’t do what was required to earn people’s commitment.

In order to create commitment, you must have a shared sense of purpose.

People must feel like everyone’s in it together, and that they will get out what they put in. In our family businesses, that wasn’t the case. For the most part, my grandfather had an idea in his head about how it should be, and he was going to achieve that vision by hook or by crook, whether others liked it or not. Most of the folks who worked in those businesses didn’t share in that purpose. Some were working for a paycheck, and if that paycheck stopped or if somebody offered a nickel more, they would leave. Some were working to achieve their own dreams, and when it became clear those dreams weren’t going to happen, or if my grandfather told them one too many tall tales, they left. Ultimately, the businesses collapsed because there wasn’t a shared commitment to keep them alive.

A lack of a shared vision is a leading reason for the failure of family enterprises to successfully transition from one generation of family ownership to the next. A true shared vision drives strategy, gives meaning to work, and creates commitment at all levels of an organization. It is especially important in a family business, because if family members don’t feel engaged in the business, the business is not likely to stay in the family. However, commitment is key to any thriving organization.

The ability to articulate and inspire commitment to a shared vision is a key characteristic of effective leaders. Commitment means people will go above and beyond what’s required – they’ll break down doors for you. On the other hand, compliance means that people will only do what they are paid or coerced to do.

There’s no question that a workforce filled with people who are compliant will get the job done, but if you’ve only got carrots and sticks, eventually you’re going to run out of both. That’s typically when the most talented folks walk away, because leaders haven’t invested enough time and energy to earn their commitment. Effective leaders inspire others, lead by example, and understand that if they really want to see their vision become a reality, it will require more than just compliance.

Remember the following leadership behaviors when you’re trying to inspire commitment:

• Model the values and actions you expect from your employees.
• Share your leadership vision and share it often.
• Connect with others personally and emotionally.
• Ask for feedback and get others’ ideas.
• Make it easy for people to contribute.
• Invest in developing your team.
• Look for ways to build excitement about the future you want to create.

What leadership behaviors have you found the most helpful when inspiring commitment?


Tom Epperson

Tom Epperson

Dr. Tom Epperson is the President of InnerWill, and an instructor in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Executive MBA program. Tom is a certified business coach and has a Doctorate in Leadership from The George Washington University. Tom works with clients on cultural transformation, leadership development, executive coaching, and igniting individual and organizational potential. Previously, Tom served as the HR Director for Luck Companies, and played a significant role as one of the architects of Luck Companies’ cultural transformation.

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