Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes … but no plans. (Peter F. Drucker)
The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty. (Proverbs 21:5)
The economy of commitment
Every leader makes investments with their team and staff. Think of it like an investment account into which you make regular deposits and withdrawals. Rather than exchanging money, your economy of exchange is trust. When you keep a commitment to your team, a deposit is made. When you break a commitment, a withdrawal is demanded. Keep in mind people invest in leaders who invest in them through a display of commitment. And since this commodity is always being exchanged, whether you see it or not, it’s critical that you keep investing in this account. One way you can do this is by following through on spoken promises, verbal arrangements, and written commitments. Your leadership is only as valuable as the commitments you keep.
Everyone, not just leaders, should fulfill their obligations. However, when a staff member doesn’t meet a deadline or follow through on a promise, they can likely be marginalized so that only a few feel the impact. But there is a different standard expected of a leader. Leaders set the pace, example, and standard for everyone, and staff take their cues from their leaders on what is acceptable and what is not. If you are careless about commitments, your behavior will create a wake through the organization, and staff will take notice. No one comes under more scrutiny than a leader who does not follow through on their commitments.
Furthermore, leaders often talk to teams about fulfilling the promises they make to their constituents. Promises have little meaning if a leader has a history of not keeping their word. And a deficit of credibility is hard to reconcile; teams seldom recover from trust bankruptcy. It may seem like a small thing for a leader to be careless with commitments, but habitual carelessness has many unreconcilable ripples.
What gets in the way of keeping your commitments?
It is helpful to think about this because most leaders intend to keep their commitments, and yet some struggle to do so. There are several reasons why you may have difficulty here.
One | Overcommitment
First, many leaders are overcommitted. They agree to do far too many things. Usually this is because they don’t want to disappoint team members, or they’re trying to impress a supervisor, and so they agree to a task without considering the time involved. But remember, you must consider not only the time necessary to fulfill the obligation but also the preparation you’ll need to do before getting started. When a deadline approaches, you won’t want to discover that you don’t have time to fulfill your commitment. And overcommitment is a reason for many broken promises.
Two | Disorganization
Second, some leaders are disorganized. It’s why assistants are so valuable to a leader. They can organize the chaos surrounding the leader and manage the schedules of the more disorganized leaders. But over-reliance on an assistant is unhealthy. Too much turmoil and disorganization can result in costly withdrawals in the economy of leadership. Disorder goes hand in hand with forgetfulness as reminders themselves can be misplaced or overlooked.
Because neither of these excuses are disingenuous, it is easy for the leader to rationalize the behavior and consider broken commitments no big deal. But cumulatively they are causing a loss of leadership capital.
Tools for Keeping Commitments
One | Your calendar
An essential tool for a leader is the calendar. If you view a leader’s calendar, you’ll see what is truly important to them. Anything that is important will be found there because a calendar is an organized way to schedule essential events. If it’s important, it should be on the calendar. By extension, all commitments should be put in writing ‒ on a calendar ‒ along with the preparation time that’s necessary to deliver on the promise.
Two | Don’t make impulsive promises
Leaders should remember that impulsive promises are an enemy because without careful thought you run the risk of not being able to deliver. Your calendar is usually full, so if you are adding something, you also will need to subtract something. You are better served to make a note regarding any commitment under consideration and ensure that you can deliver before making it public. If you cannot make it happen on your calendar, it might be an unwise promise to make.
Are you part of an organization that keeps its word both to one another and to your customers? Is your word your bond? Do you as a leader want to compromise your leadership capital by failing to deliver? Remember what’s at stake: the economy of your leadership.