The Phobia of Emotional Commitment by Stan Slap

The Phobia of Emotional Commitment by Stan Slap

You may want to give emotional commitment to your company; if you can give it, that means it’s safe to give it and you want to be safe in a world you’re devoting so much of your life to. But as a manager you have a lot of indications that giving it isn’t such a fabulous idea. After all, every other type of commitment you’ve fed your company has been slurped down greedily and, my God, it’s still hungry. Willing to work fifty hours a week? Your company will take sixty. Willing to back those strategies that are obviously brilliant? You’re expected to back the ones that are obviously boneheaded with equal fervor. Willing to work hard for bonuses and options when times are good? Plan on working even harder when those are things of distant memory and fuzzy future.

You were an adult before you were a manager and any adult knows the danger of recklessly offering emotional commitment. Emotional commitment is the biggest thing a human being has to give; it’s unconditional, often overruling logic or self-preservation. It doesn’t matter how otherwise confident you are; emotional commitment means strolling into the spotlight, buck naked and vulnerable, anxiously muttering, “Please don’t hurt me.” Well, sometimes you do get hurt, life being life. These are the hurts that last a while, therapy being therapy.

Relationships with family, friends, lovers? Those can be agonizing enough. What can you do but live through them and determinedly fling yourself back into the mosh pit of social intercourse, knowing that to do anything less is to miss the opportunity for true fulfillment?

But to close your eyes and fall confidently into the secure bosom of your company? Uh . . . yeah. Get right back to you on that.

At one time or another, every manager has felt trapped in a vague conspiracy between idiots above them and idiots below. Many are uneasily aware that they inhabit an alien planet whose rulers consider them life forms expendable at a moment’s notice. Company performance requirements are often blithely dismissive of the reality that faces managers as they attempt to do their jobs well and simultaneously protect the sense of self that’s required to do their jobs well.

This is a problem for managers at every level; I regularly coach CEOs and executive teams and they voice exactly the same concerns. When you’re clawing your way to the top, it’s easy to cling to the illusion that everything will be figured out and fulfilling once you get there. When you get there and find that’s not the case, you’ve gained all apparent rewards the job has to offer, everybody expects you to know everything, you can’t easily admit what doesn’t feel good, things still don’t make sense and there’s nowhere else to go. . . . People jump from the top floors of buildings, not the bottom.

I’ve rarely met managers who’ve come into their jobs with a cynical worldview, but I’ve met plenty who’ve adopted one as a protective mechanism. Yet most managers still have plenty of emotional commitment to give to their jobs if they can be convinced it makes sense to give it.