Five commitments for constructive cultures


I have identified five commitments made to individuals within a constructive culture that can transform teams almost immediately into high performance, highly communicative, synergistic, quality-driven unities of trust and work.

With this optimism, I commit that…

  1. I will look for contributions I can make to you and to our common cause before I make any comparisons.  This commitment is the foundational attitude of mutual concern.  Recall that Happiness Level 2 (e.g. winning, getting ahead, and personal achievement) becomes compulsive when it is thought to be the only, or the primary thing that can bring happiness or meaning in life.  This can affect one's every action, attitude, and relationship within an organization.

    Conversely, committing to look for the other's contributions can reduce ego based resentments, thereby opening the way to trust.  This commitment can cause a rapid decrease in the five cultural debilitators (fear, anger, suspicion, passive aggression, and compulsive ego).

  2. I will look for the good news in you even if I should see the bad news.  This commitment is a pledge to avoid associating others with their mistakes and failings.  When we look for the bad news in others and see it, we can become irritated, impatient, judgmental, and inclined to associate others with their mistakes.

    When people notice that we are looking for the bad news, or for what they are doing wrong, they will respond with defensiveness.  This means that most energy will be spent on devising techniques and responses to prevent blame rather than on getting a task done.  People will become indecisive.  They will need to "check everything with the boss."  Creativity will reach an all-time low, and paranoia will replace openness to change. In short, people will be unable to take risks and will even be closed to thinking about taking risks.

    These negative consequences can be avoided by a simple shift in attitude: to seek the good news in a person before making a judgment, to focus on her strengths, her goodwill, her personal qualities and ideals, her whole personhood before allowing oneself to be filled with unnecessary impatience when seeing the bad news.

  3. I will connect with you as a whole person before looking at your skill set and utility function.  It is easy to focus on a person's skill set or job functions.  We look at these skill sets and competencies when we hire people, make evaluations, and put people on teams.  These aspects of people also often receive praise from others.

    Unfortunately, it is easy to overlook the personhood of a colleague or co-worker because of the emphasis we put on his skill sets or what he can produce.  When we do this, he silently resents it.  This resentment leads to uneasiness, then to passive aggression, and eventually to bad will.

    Respecting personhood includes valuing the other's innate goodness, his life outside the organization, his ability to be a team player, and the goodwill and enthusiasm he offers to his colleagues and co-workers.  By attending to these intangible elements of persons, one connects with others as whole human beings.  Connection builds trust, respect, and meaningful workplaces.  It makes the other feel valued for who he is as much as for what he does.

  4. I will look for the "win-win" before settling for the "win-lose."  A "win-win" atmosphere decreases the five debilitators (fear, anger, suspicion, passive aggression, and compulsive ego) by creating an atmosphere of equity and contribution.

    These five personal commitments are good business.  Why?  Because they are good in themselves — good for colleagues and employees, and good for their families.

    If one stakeholder gets the impression that another is winning at his expense ("win-lose"), he will believe that an injustice is being committed.  This sense of injustice often leads to passive aggression and frequently to outright aggression.

    One way to implement this fourth commitment is to make the best of imperfect situations by creating "win-win" scenarios as often as possible.  For example, suppose that you and I belong to distinct groups of stakeholders.  You are a manager and I am an employee.  Since a "win" for one stakeholder can become a "win" for all stakeholders over time, look for wins for employees that will become a win(s) for managers, customers, and suppliers.

  5. I will trust you until you give me ample reason to do otherwise, and will 'cut you plenty of slack' because I realize that, like me, you are not perfect..  This commitment is the culmination of the first four commitments.  If both parties make the first four commitments to one another, they are declaring themselves to be trustworthy.  This movement from threat to trustworthiness allows people to take risks for a common cause.

    However, if the commitment to trust is to take hold, it cannot be based on a standard of perfection.  People will make mistakes.  They will succumb to pressure, egoism, and fear.  They will be tired, stressed, and experience bad moods.  So, we must be realistic with others while we seek to do our collective best.

These five personal commitments are good business.  Why?  Because they are good in themselves — good for colleagues and employees and good for their families.   They give rise to a culture filled with hope, fun, spirit, energy, and creativity.  They open the way to growth, change, adaptability, and synergies with customers, suppliers, and community.




Father Robert Spitzer, S.J. "Five commitments for constructive cultures." from The Spirit of Leadership (June, 2014).

Excerpted from Father Spitzer's book: The Spirit of Leadership: Optimizing Creativity and Change in Organizations. Reprinted with permission of the Spitzer Center .

The purpose of the Spitzer Center is to strengthen culture, faith and spirit in Catholic organizations for the new evangelization. Read "Why the Spitzer Center Adopted a Catholic Mission" by Father Spitzer here


Father Robert Spitzer, S.J.  is currently the President of the Magis Center of Faith and Reason and the Spitzer Center for Ethical Leadership. The former is dedicated to showing the close connection between faith and reason in contemporary astrophysics, philosophy, and historical study of the New Testament. The latter is dedicated to personal and cultural transformation that supports principle-based ethics and leads to noble and enduring success. Father Spitzer was President of Gonzaga University from 1998-2009. He has published 5 books and numerous scholarly articles, started 6 national institutes, and speaks widely on the philosophy of science, philosophy of God, and ethics. Fr. Spitzer has as spoken to thousands of audiences, and has done ethics consulting for over 300 organizations, including Boeing, Caterpillar, Toyota, Costco, the British Prime Minister's Cabinet, the leadership of Costa Rica, Protestant and Catholic leadership in Northern Ireland, and the Orthodox Church in Russia. Father Spitzer is the author of New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy, The Spirit of Leadership: Optimizing Creativity and Change in Organizations, Five Pillars of the Spiritual Life: A Practical Guide to Prayer for Active People, Healing the Culture: A Commonsense Philosophy of Happiness, Freedom, and the Life Issues, Ten Universal Principles: A Brief Philosophy of the Life Issues, as well as videos such as Suffering and the God of Love, and Healing the Culture.

Copyright © 2013 The Spitzer Center

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