Rick Polley set his razor down and put the phone to his ear.  A voice said, "There's a bad fire in the mall. You'd better get here quick."


Rick was the manager of the Moorestown Mall, an enormous and vital commercial complex in its community. In his mind's eye, he pictured not the fire but the mess ~ angry tenants, damaged merchandise, power outages. And it happened at the worst possible time for his retail tenants ~ December.


Cleanup might close us for a whole week, he thought.


He would emerge from the crisis eighty-six days later.


When he arrived at the mall that early December morning, police stopped him short of the parking lot. They told Rick he could not enter the building, for safety reasons. From his car, he called his staff to an emergency meeting. There in the parking lot, in sight of the mall, they began to plan their recovery. Late that day a tired firefighter told them, "we can let you in tomorrow morning but you won't like it.”


Rick and his team had walked ten feet into the mall when they realized that their plans were worthless. The fire had devastated the shopping mall. The interiors were blackened and waterlogged, fixtures were melted and twisted. Businesses had been ruined, physically and financially. Lives and livelihoods had been burned as badly as the merchandise.


During the months to follow, fourteen hour days became the norm, including weekends. Rick saw his children only twice. His wife did her best to help the little ones understand, but they couldn't. They only knew, for eighty-six long days, that Dad could not be with them.


Crises often have unexpected effects and unwilling participants.


Crises, like real fires, can injure and frighten us. But every crisis we overcome can also teach powerful lessons. And occasionally these lessons are presented, for all to see and understand, in a single event.


Rick's event was the reopening of the mall ~ a spectacular community celebration. For Rick and his team, and their loved ones, this was their moment of joy and reward. And profound learning. It was Rick's chance to help his children to appreciate why, for so many nights, he had chosen not to be home.


My purpose in telling this story is not to paint the details of the heroic effort to restore the mall and its commerce. I won't praise Rick's wisdom or good judgment ~ I have already told you that his first plans were useless. This is not a story about the skill and  precision of his team either, or even about their steadiness and grace under pressure.


What really happened here?


Personal commitment is the key ingredient in every success story. It can compensate for the absence of almost any skill or resource.

Rick's team missed deadlines badly at first. Coordination was impossible at times. Their emotions ran hot. Policy was written and changed by the hour. Mistakes were made.


This is not a story of heroism. No pictures of Rick's dramatic poses or "sound- bites" of his bosses "accepting full responsibility." No ~ not wisdom or judgment. Not skill or precision. Not steadiness, or grace under pressure, or the "drama of responsibility.” None of these are the answer. There is but one powerful ingredient that allows us to tell a story of success here.


That powerful ingredient is personal commitment.


Personal commitment is the key ingredient in every success story. It can compensate for the absence of almost any skill or resource.


The concept of personal commitment goes far beyond that of "responsibility." Next time you hear a story about failure, listen and you may hear references to "responsibility." You will not hear the word "commitment" in the excuses.


These are the post-crisis sounds of failure:


"Circumstances beyond our control caused the catastrophe."

 ~ or ~

("It might happen again and I still won't be the bad guy.")



"It's nobody's fault. Our whole society must share the responsibility. We are all to blame."

 ~ or ~

("Don't blame me or I'll remind you that you're not perfect either. Let's just agree to blame everybody and nobody will have to feel bad.")



"I have launched a full-scale investigation. We must search for those responsible."


("Soon I'll give you a scapegoat to hang.")



"I accept full responsibility."


("I blew it. You caught me. I'm admitting it. I feel bad, too. What more do you want?")


This last statement bothers me more than the others, because we are too often fooled by it. We are distracted by the grains of truth in it. But we are getting much less than our due from the individual who mounts his stage and in a most somber voice "accepts full responsibility."


Here we have a loser, who hopes we will like him because he is a truthful loser.


Here we have a very cheap substitute for what we really want.  "You can blame me," he says, and hopes to get our sympathy, as if his public pain should be punishment enough for his failure.


We don't want someone to blame.

We don't want a scapegoat to fire.


We want a committed soul like Rick, who keeps working until he wins.


There is the difference. "Accepting responsibility" is not enough.


If you merely "accept responsibility" you are willing to quit and accept the blame for failure.

If you merely "accept responsibility" you are willing to quit and accept the blame for failure. If you commit yourself, you are not willing to accept failure. And you will not quit.


"Winners make commitments," is a T-shirt slogan worth remembering. But surely you know from your own experience that there is a deeper truth here. Try it in reverse:


"Commitment makes winners."


Now we are at the heart of it. Commitment makes winners. They, like Rick, learn their most valuable lessons in the fire of crisis.


Lesson One: (Everyone in a crisis learns Lesson One)


Crisis contains the possibility of failure.


The possibility of failure simply cannot be eliminated. The very existence of every crisis indicates failure of some kind. Thus it is impossible to avoid direct contact with failure. Even our best plans will not always prevent it.


The uncommitted learn how to cope with crises by gracefully making their exit when the first possibility of failure appears. They learn to escape by "sharing their pain" and asking us to accept that failure could not be eliminated, avoided or prevented. It was inevitable. This abdication accelerates the failure, of course.


But soon they learn how to quit without pain or shame. They practice and polish their excuses. They become skilled at losing. This is all they learn from crises.


Lessons Two and Three are learned only by the committed few.


Lesson Two:


Commitment makes failure temporary.


If failure cannot be eliminated, avoided or prevented, we must anticipate it, face it, acknowledge it. But we must not quit.


Quitting makes our failures permanent.

But commitment drives us through our times of failure.


Lesson Three:


Committed people become courageous people.


Courage is learned by overcoming failure, again and again.

Winston Churchill said:


"Failure is not fatal.

 Success is never found.

 Courage is the only thing."


Courage is learned by overcoming failure, again and again.


In other words, especially in the most difficult working environments, Commitment makes winners.


Look around you. You will see that the committed get ahead. You will see that the boss has special feelings toward the committed souls.


It is the bond of mutual understanding and respect you are seeing. It is the shared desire for the goal.


There is nothing that inspires more respect, or creates more gratitude, or garners more support from a boss than the experience of working with the truly committed employee.


Do you want more proof? Look closely at many of the great lives in history. You will find deep personal commitment. You will find people who experienced crisis after crisis, endured resentment and apathy, and overcame many failures.


Ultimately, it was their deep personal commitment that gave them the great rapture of real success.

Commitment filled them with the thrill of pursuit. Commitment taught them lessons in courage. Commitment gave them the experience, the confidence, and the power to deliver peak performance at crucial times.


Soon their failures became fewer and smaller. Soon nothing could scare them. And then nothing could beat them.


Ultimately, it was their deep personal commitment that gave them the great rapture of real success.


Rick Polley's experience at the Moorestown Mall will not go down in history, but he has shown us the same powerful ingredient we find in our legends and history books.


It's the ingredient we hunger for in our leaders, and admire in our heroes. It's the stuff that stands above the hype and slick excuses. It's the only substance that can fill in, even when the right skills and resources are in short supply. It's something that is always readily available and it will make you win. But you must choose to add it to your life.


Work until you win, no matter what.


Commitment makes winners.