The Leadership Contract

A powerful leadership tool that most leaders are unaware of.

By Brent Filson - 2005

One of the crucial challenges of leadership is motivation. How do we motivate people to be ardent supports of our cause?

Here’s a fundamental building block of motivation that most leaders miss. Why more leaders don’t realize it and put it into action, I don’t know; for it involves a simple change of thinking and easy actions flowing from that change that can quickly lead to big increases in results.

I call it the Leadership Contract. It’s a great leadership tool, one you can use daily for the rest of your career. It’s based on this principle: There’s a crucial difference between doing a task and taking leadership of that task that makes a world of difference in results.

For instance, if one is a floor sweeper, one does the best floor sweeping, not simply by doing it but by taking leadership of floor sweeping.

Such leadership might entail:

Otherwise, in a "doing" mode, one simply pushes a broom.

You may say, "Listen, Brent, a job is a job is a job. This leadership thing is making too much of not much!"

Could be. But my point is that applying leadership to a task changes the expectations of the task. It even changes the task itself. Think of it, when we ourselves are challenged to lead and not simply do, our world is, I submit, changed.

Because of the many benefits accruing from a doing-to-leading change in mind set -- manifested by the Leadership Contract -- you’ll see that its frequent application can create seismic transformations in your job and career.

The Leadership Contract is simply an agreement between you and the people you lead that spells out the specific actions they’ll take to be your cause leaders.

Keep in mind three things:

  1. You and they recognize the important difference between doing and leading.
  2. They do not necessarily have to be reporting to you. They can be your clients or customers, members of your team, even your boss ... or even your teenage son or daughter!
  3. This is a "contract", not an "agreement." An "agreement" ranges from a mutual understanding to a binding obligation. However, a "contract" carries with it the force of law. The "law" in this case is a rule or injunction that must be obeyed. Hence, the contract is an instrument, an injunction fashioned by you and your cause leaders, that must be complied with as if it were a law.

Here’s a 5 step process for making the Leadership Contract happen.

Step 1: Understand: Know and have the people know precisely what the Leadership Contract is -- and isn’t.

Implementing this step may entail some education and persuasion. For instance, if the people do not believe there is a difference between doing and leading, you cannot develop a Leadership Contract with them. You must first educate them as to what the Leadership Contract is then persuade them to join with you in the Contract.

Step 2: Develop: The process of developing the Contract is as important as the Contract itself. That process is always the same.

  1. Have the people propose what leadership actions should be taken to accomplish the increase in results. Otherwise, if you tell them what actions they should take, you are into an order-giving situation; and in terms of getting big increases in results, the order is the lowest form of leadership.
  2. Once they have made their proposals, come to a tentative agreement as to which of them will be implemented.

(They cannot take any leadership actions they see fit. You can veto actions you think won’t work. In all the leadership contracts I have witnessed, I have seldom seen a leader veto a proposed action the people wanted to take. On the contrary, leaders are usually pleasantly surprised by the effectiveness of the actions the people propose.)

Step 3: Test:  Once you have agreed upon their actions, apply a testing methodology to the results, such as the SAMMER test. Are the results Sizable, Achievable, Meaningful, Measurable, Ethical, Repeatable.

Review the actions you’ve tentatively agreed upon. Do they meet your criteria for getting increases in results? If they don’t, get new actions.

Step 4: Support:  Agree with them as to how their leadership will be supported. This support can take the form of additional training, logistics, administrative, communication, and flying "air cover" if they need to be protected from the scrutiny and interference of higher authorities in your organization.

Step 5: Monitor and evaluate. Agree with them as to how and when the actions will be monitored and evaluated. This step is critical to creating lasting change.

I suggest you meet every two to three weeks at the start to monitor and evaluate how things are going. Later, you can switch to monthly, semi-monthly and even quarterly evaluations.

The idea is to hold your cause leaders accountable for their leadership and the results they achieve through that leadership; and they will be especially accountable if you have made sure you take Step 2 of this process. I call it interior accountability – it comes inside from them not outside from you.

The Leadership Contract will take the guesswork out of motivation. Apply it consistently, and you’ll have people lining up to be given the chance to work with you.


2005© The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

The author of 23 books, Brent Filson's recent books are, THE LEADERSHIP TALK: THE GREATEST LEADERSHIP TOOL and 101 WAYS TO GIVE GREAT LEADERSHIP TALKS. He is founder and president of The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. – Celebrating 25 years of helping leaders of top companies worldwide achieve outstanding results every day. Sign up for his free leadership e-zine and get his FREE report "7 Steps To Leadership Mastery"