How to Turn Compliance into Commitment

leadership “Webb, What’s going on in the world?”

Sounds like an innocent question, right? Not when it’s your first summer at West Point and the person asking is your Squad Leader. That simple question is code for: “Summarize for me an article from the front page of today’s New York Times.”

My response should have started something like, “Sir, today in the New York Times it was reported that…” Only one problem—I hadn’t read the paper that morning. A myriad of excuses flashed through my mind—Physical Training ran late, no one else has read the paper, We didn’t have enough time—but no upperclassman wanted excuses. There was only one appropriate response.

“Sir, I do not know.”

Here it comes, I thought. I prepared for the requisite shellacking.

But it never came. Instead of fury I found something quite different in Cadet Sarabia’s eyes that morning: disappointment.

As he moved on, I was left to deal with my own lack, silently soaking up his disappointment.

What I discovered during those few minutes amazed me. I felt I had let him down. I felt an intense desire to redouble my efforts, to not mess up again, to do whatever it took. I was surprised by what he had created in me: For the first time that summer I wanted to live up to someone’s belief in me, not just avoid punishment.

For weeks, undetected by me, John Sarabia had been sowing the seeds of trust. In that moment, he reaped the harvest. He had gained something from me that all the rules and regulations, all the pressure and stress couldn’t pry out of me: My Trust. I knew he believed in me. I knew he was on my side.

John had moved me from being merely compliant to being truly committed. And he did it by earning my trust.

How are you earning the trust of those you lead? How have leaders earned your trust in the past?

8 thoughts on “How to Turn Compliance into Commitment”

  1. I was looking for the eulogy page for my cousin John David Sarabia on the West Point web page and as I did a search this blog post showed up. I’m glad that he left an impact on you and I don’t think were many people who were in his life that he didn’t touch in some way. He was very much loved by our family and we miss him everyday. Thank you for sharing your story about how he touched you. Today is the anniversary of this death and it’s a difficult day for us and I am glad that he’s not forgotten and lives on in the lessons he taught those around him.

    1. Laurie – thank you so much for reaching out.

      I didn’t have much interaction with John after Beast Barracks, but he obviously left a profound impact on me. I still remember the day I heard of his death in my junior year, it was so hard to believe. Last month, while I was writing this post, I looked over his eulogy page on the West Point AOG site. I was encouraged to hear the stories of how he had impacted others as well.

      His life was short, but he certainly lived it well. My thoughts and prayers will be with you and your family today. Thanks again.

  2. I just read your story about my cousin John David and I was so happy to learn that he is still remembered by so many people he crossed paths with during his lifetime. He was such a joy to be around and we were lucky to have had him visit us for many summers in Lubbock Texas during his youth.

    Thank you so much for sharing this and God bless you always.
    Laurie’s sister,
    Deanna Nelson

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *