John Maxwell is Wired (8.1)


What do you think of when you hear the word commitment?  Perhaps you picture a loving husband caring for his invalid wife.  Maybe you envision a business owner who puts her resources and reputation on the line to lead her company through a crisis.  Perhaps you see a dedicated teacher who spends hours of his own time tutoring underprivileged children.  Or maybe the scene that comes to mind is one of a group of soldiers who willingly enters harm's way to protect their countrymen.

These are all wonderful examples of commitment.  But have you considered the fact that individuals who act in less admirable ways also are committed?  People who watch the clock at work are committed to making it through the day so they can go home.  People who spend most of their free time in front of the television are committed to taking life easy.  People who cheat on their income taxes are committed to beating the system.

Do you understand what I’m saying?  When it comes to living a life
of significance, the vital question isn’t, "Am I committed?" It’s,
"What am I committed to?"

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to observe many remarkable
individuals who I refer to as "make-a-difference people"—the kind of
folks you want on your team and in your life because they’re constantly
making positive things happen.  As I wrote in the last issue of
"Leadership Wired," "make-a-difference" people stand out from everyone
else because they are connected—to a great leader, to a powerful vision
and to other people who want to make a difference.

Another critical factor that sets "make-a-difference people" apart is their deep level of commitment in four key areas:

1. Make-a-difference people are committed to excellence.
to someone else’s standard of excellence isn’t an option; they set
their own bar, and they set it high.  If you want to be a
difference-maker, your bar of excellence should be higher than anyone
else’s.  In other words, you should expect more out of yourself than
anyone else expects out of you.

2. Make-a-difference people are committed to service.
Burns once said, "When you stop giving and offering something to the
rest of the world, it’s time to turn out the lights."  That is so
true.  Anyone can call himself a servant-leader, but that description
is meaningless unless it’s accompanied by action.  True servanthood
manifests itself in the following four ways:

  • It puts others ahead of an individual agenda.  True servants
    aren’t in it for themselves; they’re committed to the growth and
    well-being of the people they’re serving.
  • It begins with security.  Service often takes us out of our comfort
    zone, and in order to function effectively in such unfamiliar
    territory, confidence is a necessity.
  • It initiates service to others.  It doesn’t wait to be served.  It doesn’t wait to be asked to serve.  It goes first.
  • It is not position-conscious.  You show me a person who serves, and I’ll show you someone who cares little about titles.

3. Make-a-difference people are committed to growth.
have found that there are three types of people on earth: the
unlearned, the learned and the learning.  If you want to make a
positive contribution with your life, never stop stretching and growing.
Make a concerted effort to learn today what will help you do better
tomorrow.  If you grow in the right areas today, you’ll reap the right
rewards tomorrow.

4. Make-a-difference people are committed to giving.
reason for this is simple: Giving is the highest level of living.  Here
are four ways to develop a giving spirit in your life:

  • Be grateful for whatever you have.  It’s hard to be generous when you always want more for yourself.
  • Put people first.  The measure of a leader is not the number of people who serve him, but the number of people whom he serves.
  • Don’t allow the desire for possessions to control you.  This is so
    critical.  Do you control your money, or does your money control you?
  • Develop the habit of giving.  Author Richard Foster made a profound
    statement about this: "Just the very act of letting go of money or some
    other treasure does something within us," he said.  "It destroys the
    demon greed."

Now that I’ve described the characteristics that set
make-a-difference people apart, it’s time to get personal.  Do you want
to make a difference in your business, your community, your family or
any other area of life that is important you?  If your answer is yes, I
have one more question for you.  Are you making a difference—wherever
you are, whatever you’re doing?

I certainly hope so.  But if not, don’t get discouraged.  Instead,
as I said last time, get busy.  There’s no time like the present to
become a make-a-difference person.

The head of one of the nation’s largest credit
card issuers learned many lessons in a previous career as a management
consultant that he now has the opportunity to apply in his own company.

Richard Fairbank, the chairman, president and CEO of Capital One
Financial, shared some of these principles at a recent talk at the
Wharton School (of the University of Pennsylvania).  Knowledge@Wharton,
the b-school’s bi-weekly online resource, provided the following
highlights in an article titled "When Leadership Becomes a Quest."

  • People are your business’s most important asset.  "You can’t
    find anybody in corporate America who doesn’t agree with this, but
    their actions are inconsistent with that statement," Fairbank told his
    audience.  An important part of a CEO’s job—as well as that of any
    other leader—is recruiting and motivating employees.
  • Cast a compelling vision, but don’t allow your desire to overshadow
    your humanity.  People are more likely to work hard for and cooperate
    with leaders who are authentic.  Fairbank says this involves "being
    vulnerable, being honest and showing your weaknesses as well as your
    bold dream."
  • Success isn’t about an impressive title or large paycheck.  Rather,
    "It’s about having a dream, a quest," Fairbank said.  "[My father] used
    to say that, ‘It doesn’t matter how big the quest is.  What matters is
    how pure the quest is.  You can own your own success by virtue of
    defining it as a quest.’"

If making e-mail work for
you instead of against you is a goal for 2005, you won’t want to miss
Stever Robbins’ article, "Tips for Mastering E-mail Overload," in a
recent issue of Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge e-zine.

Robbins, a leadership consultant and author of "It Takes a Lot More
than Attitude to Lead a Stellar Organization," says that "taming e-mail
means training the senders to put the burden of quality back on
themselves."  He recommends a two-pronged approach: lead by example by
sending better e-mail yourself (by making your e-mails one page or
less, editing forwarded messages, making action requests clear,
providing full context at the beginning of each message, etc.), and
then explicitly training others to make their online communications
more productive.

When it comes to teaching others, Robbins offers the following suggestions:

  • Only check your e-mail at certain times each day.  Let your
    people know that if they need to reach you immediately, "e-mail isn’t
    the way," he writes.
  • "Charge people for sending you messages."  One CEO Robbins has
    worked with charges employees five dollars from their budget for each
    e-mail she gets.  "Amazingly, her overload has gone way down, the
    relevance of e-mails has gone up, and the senders are happy, too,
    because the added thought often results in them solving more problems
    on their own," he writes.
  • Keep your responses short.  Responding to three-page e-mails with
    three-word answers lets people know not to expect long responses from
    you, "and then you can proceed to answer at your leisure in whatever
    format works best for you," Robbins says.

This article is used by permission from Dr. John C. Maxwell’s free
monthly e-newsletter ‘Leadership Wired’ available at