The Core Commitments

Not long ago, Alistair introduced me to the ideas of Jim and Michele McCarthy. The McCarthys run a teamwork laboratory in which they have studied what people do and what tends to work. I found the paper on the Decider Protocol to be pretty interesting, so I downloaded episodes 88-92 of The McCarthy Show. This weekend I am finally listening to those episodes, which are focused on introducing the Core Commitments.

Initially I was a little put off by their style, but as I became used to it I was able to focus on the material. Some of their ideas are pretty radical, at least compared to what I’ve been told about the business world. They start right off by talking about knowing and disclosing what you want, think, and feel. The idea is that you would do this frequently, such that you are continually present and engaged. These are not new ideas to me, but I still find them frightening. It’s hard enough to do this in a group of friends, when my job isn’t on the line. To be honest about my current wants, thoughts and feelings at work? Yikes!

It seems dangerous to express my deepest wants, because
a) someone might make fun of me,
b) I may not be able to make those wants reality, and
c) someone could then call me on my failure.
The McCarthys are well aware of this dynamic. In their minds, if you really want something, you will work towards it. This does open you up to others holding you accountable if your actions do not seem to match your goal. I find this prospect frightening, though at the same time I recognize the learning opportunity it presents. I will need to clarify my intent, which might result in me altering my goal or adjusting my actions. This involves a lot of transparency. Jim McCarthy says right in the show, “When in doubt, go vulnerable.” This seems so powerful, and so scary.

I’ve spent most of my life believing that in order to succeed professionally, I needed to somehow quell my emotions. I have tried, but I can’t say that I have had a lot of success. It was refreshing to hear the McCarthys say that in their experience, people are at their most effective when they are simultaneously thinking and feeling. The McCarthys acknowledge the current cultural prejudice against emotion, and make the distinction between disclosing one’s feelings and acting them out. In fact, part of their first commitment is to refuse to offer or accept incoherent emotional transmissions.

Another big idea is the importance and power of seeking effective help. It’s hard to let go of my pride and ask for help, especially when I believe I should already know how to perform the task at hand. The matter is complicated by the cultural stereotypes of women being helpless and requiring a man’s help, and women being less competent in technology. I ask for help because I know that it’s more efficient than me toiling in isolation to find the answer, but I worry that others will think less of me because I asked. I hate the idea that I might be helping others justify their low expectations of women.

The last two parts of commitment 1 put the onus on each individual to support the best idea at all times, including suggesting one’s idea if it is better than the currently prevailing idea. I believe I have usually succeeded in getting behind the best idea, regardless of the source. When I have either failed to put forward a good idea I had, or gotten attached to an idea that was no longer the best available, it was definitely counter-productive. Unfortunately, I have often seen good ideas fall by the wayside either because the person who proposed them was not forceful enough to get their idea across, or because no senior people get behind the idea.

Commitment 1 is the biggest and the McCarthys spent by far the most time on it. While the remaining commitments are easier to understand just by reading them, I still found the discussion worthwhile. I particular liked Jim’s comment on commitment 4 (Speak always and only when I believe it will improve the general results/effort ratio.): “You introverts, you need to get behind the always. And you extroverts, you need to get behind the only!”

I’m not sure I’d want to formally adopt all these commitments and protocols, but I like the idea of taking the commitments as a starting point. I think the ideas are at least worth considering.

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