Stretch commitments change the game


The project was off the rails. Major delays and cost overruns frustrated the project sponsor. Two successive project leaders had already been fired and morale in the delivery team was at an all time low. Users were disenchanted and the board was getting nervous. Colin* was parachuted in with the mission to turn things around.

He recognised that leadership is a team sport. He allowed the team to vent their frustrations. He painted a picture of the predictable future if nothing altered. People reaffirmed that they wanted to be on a winning team. They aligned with him on a new commitment to deliver a successful outcome within six months. That was a stretch commitment. Most stakeholders had accepted that it could take twelve months or more to sort out, if it succeeded at all.

At the time they made the stretch commitment, Colin and the team had little evidence that it was achievable. But having given their word, they now needed to see what it would take to deliver on their promise. Colin knew that he needed to take his leadership to a new level. Critically, he needed to reinvent his strength as a great problem solver. He now had a new problem, which was how get the best from his team.

The team surprised themselves and everyone around them by successfully delivering the project. Colin built his personal brand as the ‘turnaround guy’ and is now in demand as a game-changing leader.

Game-changing leaders make stretch commitments and are able to elicit big commitments from those around them. Predictable commitments, by definition, will only get you more of what you already have.

This idea of making big commitments is not an alien concept. We have all had the experience of taking on a stretch commitment, for example stepping into parenthood, moving countries or taking on a big new role. In each case, the commitment is the key, not whether we have the necessary knowledge or skills. We commit and in the process of delivering on our commitment, we find a new level in our leadership that we did not realise we had.

This ability to make and achieve stretch commitments is what changes the game. Zenger Folkman’s research based on 360 degree evaluations on 20,000 individuals, suggests that ‘establishing stretch goals’ is one of the 16 competencies for extraordinary leaders. It is a key component of what distinguishes extraordinary leaders from good leaders.

Where could you make stretch commitments?

Best regards, Brian

*Name changed to protect the innocent

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