Coaching Article – 7 Leadership Steps to Keep Your Promises (or Fail Fast)

I had already broken three promises, and the day wasn’t over yet! I was participating in an event specifically on the topic of self-governance and reliable follow-through, and in the heat of the moment I made some commitments that I couldn’t keep. While they were small things that others may not have remembered, they still had the potential to undermine my credibility and dependability with this group. I realized that I needed to be more self-aware of what I was saying to others. I like to help people, look good, and to be liked, so it’s easy for me to say that I’ll do something.

To this day, it was a learning opportunity that I haven’t forgotten. If you’re like me over the last few weeks and months, the increased pace and pressure of virtual work and activity makes keeping promises even more critical.

Simple But Not Easy

When the Honor Code was created, Article 3 was a foundational requirement to lead with honor –

“Keep your word and your commitments. Ask for relief sooner than necessary.” [Tweet This]

It’s easy to assume that we keep our word, but in reality it’s not that easy to keep promises consistently—especially to remember and keep the ones that aren’t as personally important to us. We have good intentions and a desire to help and fulfill our word with a particular person, but the truth is that some of us hastily agree to do things that get forgotten and drop off the radar. Even worse, we just decide it was a bad commitment that we should’ve never agreed to do, and now we want to ignore it instead of respectfully declining or asking for relief.

On a national scale, have you noticed the continued cynicism toward politics and the media? For the last few years, Gallup’s research indicates that the majority of the population has “very little” or only “some” confidence in the institutions of congress, television news, and internet news. There appears to be widespread skepticism, even contempt for institutions that consistently fail to keep their promises and their value statements to the public. This mentality is collectively and individually dangerous if it becomes an accepted practice to break promises.

Watch this month’s Leading with Honor Coaching clip as I share my personal advice. Be sure and interact by clicking the emoticons and posting your comments –

(Video not playing? Watch it Here.)

Why Is It Important?

Others are counting on you to keep your word. They’re planning their work, their schedule, their expectations, their hopes, even their lives based on what you’ve promised. Their trust for you is founded on your reliability to follow through.

Trust is the hinge point of leadership—when it goes up, your credibility goes up; when it goes down, your influence drops like a rock. [Tweet This]

There will be consequences if you fail. When you don’t deliver, it can be a minor problem or even disastrous. What happens when a child is told that you will pick them up after practice and you don’t show? What about when you tell your teammates you will have your next milestone done by a certain date and then don’t come through?

In the military and other time-sensitive occupations, keeping your commitments can be life or death. Entire operations are coordinated around timely execution of the tactical plan. In day-to- day life, seemingly small, unfulfilled promises can become critical to your credibility and your honor.

Ultimately, it undermines the trust of others, and trust is the foundation for leadership, influence, execution, and healthy relationships. My point is not to create feelings of guilt but awareness that we all have some room to grow on this one.

7 Steps to Keeping Your Promises

How can you guard against broken promises and commitments? Learn and apply this list of helpful, proven steps –

  1. Be Intentional. If keeping your word is important to you, recommit to it as one of your key values. Test yourself for a couple of days and track how well you currently keep your promises.
  2. Become More Self-Aware. Monitor your words and be fully aware of what you are promising.
  3. Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep. Resist committing unless you’re sure you want to do it and can do it. Learn to say “no,” or say, “I’ll have to check with my team to see if we can do that.”
  4. Write Commitments Down Immediately. Assign them a realistic completion date on your to- do list or calendar.
  5. Be Courageous. Use the Courage Challenge engagement card to engage rather than withdraw.
  6. Ask Your Support Team to Help You be Accountable. Get over your independence and pride. Ask for help.
  7. Fail Fast. If you can’t keep commitments, ask for relief immediately versus ignoring it.

From a practical perspective, keeping your word makes you look stronger and more authentic and that leads to greater trust, better outcomes/results, and a more successful life in every area. From a values perspective, your honor is at stake. Keep your commitment to live and lead with honor. Please also share your wisdom and experience in the comments section below, and also download your free copy of the Honor Code that includes this principle.    


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