I was doing a week of executive education with senior government leaders.  Many had military backgrounds.  In the middle of the week, one of them pulled me aside and told me why he recently left a high-paying corporate job.

He said that when he was an officer in the Army, he had to make the conscious decision that he was willing to die in pursuing his various missions.  He said that when you have to attack a high-risk objective, it becomes probable that some of your people are going to die.  Everyone is aware of the probability.

There is a paradox.  It is crucial that everyone is willing to die because that commitment actually reduces the probability of death.  Total commitment leads to greater effort and higher coordination.  Higher coordination increases the likelihood of collective success and decreases the number of people who are likely to die.  If everyone is willing to die, it becomes probable that more people will live.

A major determinant of total commitment among the troops is their perception of their leader’s commitment to the group.  No matter what the leader says or does, the troops know if the leader is authentic, if the leader is willing to do what the leader is asking them to do.  If the leader is willing to die for the group, the troops are more likely to make the same commitment.

The man told of missions in which people did die.  Because of his commitment, he held himself accountable to speak to the mothers and wives.  Such experiences led him to deep reflection and the clarification of values, which led him to greater self-awareness and to even more authentic influence.

This man left his recent professional situation that was very lucrative because he perceived the people above him were not totally committed to their mission.  He is no longer willing to work in such organizations.


  • Are your people totally committed?
  • How committed are you to your people?
  • What could you do that would cause them to become more committed?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

2 comments on “Commitment

  1. The Army has very strategic and intricate system of personnel development that influences this feeling of “willing to die”…I feel the leadership development model is largely rooted in servant leadership theory…granted my feelings are formed by my own personal experiences and not ground in academic rigor. Maybe FPOs and other organizations could learn some things from the Army model of leadership development.

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