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Emotional commitment is a focus of ours at Maximus. It’s our biggest ask of leaders. Emotional commitment is not automatic and many companies don’t pay attention to what’s required to inspire it. It demands faith, context, involvement and real accountability. It’s what ensures a person doesn’t walk past something that matters – whether a problem or opportunity. It’s the reason an individual will bring their full self to work.

If leaders are content with their organisation being made up of groups of spectators, they can rely on people’s heads alone. If they want teams of activists who bring the future forward, they need emotional commitment. They need hearts.

“At Maximus, we won’t settle for a lack of emotional commitment, either from our own leaders or those with whom we work.”

At Maximus, we won’t settle for a lack of emotional commitment, either from our own leaders or those with whom we work. Its absence is destructive to the people and the culture within organisations. Its presence is transformative and a fundamental part of the way we think about our solutions.

You can’t force emotional commitment – as a leader you have to lead in a way that makes it well up so it becomes a force of its own. It’s a little like falling in love with the work – it’s purpose, your people and your customers. Emotional commitment to the work we love delivers exceptional discretionary effort because we care deeply about the outcomes and bring our whole selves to it. We have skin in the game and see ourselves as the key players.

As we emerge from the pandemic, I’ve been thinking a lot about what the future of emotional commitment looks like, particularly if we’re dispersed – or as we return from being virtual. I’m also thinking about it from a generational perspective. What does this ‘falling in love’ with work look like for younger members of our team at Maximus, and our clients? As both a leader in our organisation and as an advisor for our clients, I plan on spending more time developing my thinking around that.

“When you put people at the centre of everything, their emotional commitment follows, and you must take care of them.”

In the meantime, to engender this kind of emotional commitment, we know there are some non-negotiables. From a systems perspective, human-centered design is essential. Putting the employee, the stakeholder, and the customer at the heart of everything you do – and making that rock solid.

you put people at the centre of everything, their emotional commitment follows, and you must take care of them. For me to give of myself, I want to make sure that what I hold most dearly is going to be respected. If I invest that deep emotional commitment and then I’m let down, the disappointment runs deep.

This is where a systems approach is critical, ensuring an organisation’s processes and policies and procedures focus on people, and diversity and inclusion. It must flow through the whole organisation – the system must set an expectation that we respect all our people, and we do so with care. This can be seemingly small things such as taking care to make sure you spell or pronounce someone’s name correctly.

When you have a culture that encourages people to bring their true self to work, they open up and show vulnerability. When leaders take the time to protect and respect this and to genuinely see their people as individuals, commitment naturally flows and the impact it has on an organisation is immense.

Allowing individuals to bring their true selves to work can mean many things. Some are obvious, some less so. I was talking to a transgender friend a couple of months ago and they explained the dress-code of their organisation explicitly excluded the way they would want to dress.   Imagine that – you can’t even come to work dressed in the way that’s aligned with your identity without violating a policy. This was not malintent, it was just a legacy system that was not human-centered.

Then there are the not so obvious areas that unfortunately still trip up leaders. It’s things that most of us will recognise, such as a leader scoffing about dietary requirements. I’m giving that example because that used to be me. I used to think – and probably say – ‘What’s with the no dairy or no gluten – it’s ridiculous!’ I now realise that if I say something like that, I’m excluding people. That is a big shift for many, and it needs to be taught.

“When you put people at the centre of everything, their emotional commitment follows, and you must take care of them.”

Leaders should consider creating emotional commitment as an investment, in human terms. If you make a financial investment – say, buy some shares – you gain ownership of those shares and there’s an expectation they will grow. Emotional investment also comes with an expectation of growth. I’m immersing myself deeply in the organisation and what I’m doing here, so it’s reasonable that I expect in turn that you, as my leader, will acknowledge my personal commitment, and that we grow and get better together.

Emotional commitment can be taught. At Maximus, we’ve recently brought in Transformation Labs. It’s a four-hour session where each leader is paired with two coaches, and it’s all about them. We invest that time and ask them to focus on their legacy. That’s a very emotive principle to work with – we talk about hopes and fears and their leadership philosophy and how they want to shape it. It’s the start of a journey for them and we help them map it out. The transformation includes the way they integrate work and life. We keep pointing them back to their true self and showing them the power of living that to their fullest.

In the end, emotional commitment goes to the power of purpose. Life is better when you fall in love with something. It doesn’t matter if it’s a person, a passion, or a problem. We show leaders how to find this in themselves, and to ensure they are setting up their organisations to give their people the same platform to do work that matters to them, where they can be themselves and be proud to have skin in the game.

This article was written as part of a series celebrating the 20th anniversary of Maximus. Driven by the entrepreneurial spirit of Vanessa Gavan and her conviction that leadership should be so much more, we have created a series of interviews presenting the fundamentals of differentiated leadership, available in full here search ‘anniversary’.




  • 20 Years
  • Ambition
  • anniversary
  • Commitment
  • Culture
  • Differentiated Leadership
  • Emotional Commitment
  • Founder
  • Growth
  • Human
  • Impact
  • James Keeler
  • Leadership
  • Maximus
  • Purpose
  • Success