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Keep Your Commitments

Keep Your Commitments

Dave Anderson

In several of my seminars I cover the importance of building a rock solid character, and go over key traits to develop in that endeavor: remaining teachable, accepting responsibility, honesty in words and deeds, maintaining a strong work ethic and more. However, the section that creates the most squirms and losses of eye contact is when I discuss the non-negotiable leadership requirement to keep one’s commitments. Following are seven principles concerning keeping commitments that give you a chance to evaluate your proficiency in the vital area of keeping commitments, because you can rest assured that those you work with are measuring your leadership by whether you do, or don’t.

1. If you make a commitment you are expected to keep it, regardless of the cost. The last four words of the preceding sentence is what causes most folks to compromise their integrity. They’ll keep their commitment as long as it doesn’t cost more than they thought it would, take longer than they estimated, or create undue inconvenience. But that doesn’t cut it. If you say you’re going to do it, you need to do it. Period.

2. Be careful which commitments you make. Because of the prior point, you can’t afford to make commitments thoughtlessly, cavalierly, or in a hurry. Nor should you allow yourself to be pressured into a commitment by either a customer or coworker because if you agree to do it, you will be expected to do it. Thus, commit wisely and don’t let your mouth write checks the rest of you can’t cash.

3. If you’ve failed to keep commitments, the people you let down haven’t forgotten. Just because they don’t bring it up, doesn’t mean they’re over it. Stephen Covey, quoting Freud, said it well: “Unexpressed feelings never die they’re buried alive and rear their heads later in meaner and uglier ways than before.”

4. If you’ve failed to keep commitments you need to make it right. Go address it with the person as soon as possible. Admit that you recognize you failed to do what you said you’d do, apologize, ask forgiveness, promise to do better in the future, and make restitution if necessary and possible. By the way, these steps are just as relevant to your friendships and family life as they are to your work world.

5. When your words and deeds are inconsistent you break trust and lose influence with followers, peers, and higher-ups. Frankly, no one wants to follow a leader they can’t count on, don’t believe, or who has made a habit of “talking right and walking left.” Failing to keep your word will demoralize followers and peers to the point where you’ll rarely get second mile performances from them; it will also make your higher-ups realize you’ve probably gone as far as you’re going to. After all, no one wants to give more opportunities or responsibilities to one who can’t handle what he or she already has.

6. If you’re not faithful in small things, don’t expect to be trusted with more. Don’t let yourself off the hook by rationalizing that the commitments you fail to keep are “small” things, and that you come through on the big ones. It doesn’t work that way. All commitments matter, because your word should count in small things as well as large. Any higher-up would be an absolute fool to give more resources, opportunities, or responsibilities to someone who isn’t faithful in the smaller matters they’ve been given.

7. Being late to work counts as not keeping your commitments. This is the one that creates the most squirms in my classes. Unless when you were hired you were told you could come and go as you pleased, I’m guessing you agreed to be at your post by a certain time each day. When you’re not there, you’ve broken your word. Don’t think it’s just the “five minutes,” because it’s not that simple. Although I personally find the five minutes late appalling and irresponsible, what’s worse is that you didn’t keep your word to the people who hired you and you’re letting down customers and teammates who may need you. And why? Because even as a grown adult you can’t get your act together to make sure you’re where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there, when you promised to be there, and even though you’re being paid to be there at that time.

While anyone can have an occasional emergency that creates a freak tardiness, if you’re known for being late you have a serious problem. I’d fire you in a heartbeat, because anyone late to work in my business violates four of our five core values: integrity, teamwork, urgency and attention to detail. If your company has similar values, you and anyone else coming to work late is violating them—and in strong cultures that should be a big deal. Perhaps Zig Ziglar said it best, “Being late is the arrogant choice.”

If any of these seven points made you uncomfortable, it’s probably because it has something to teach you. Take it as a nudge to work on this aspect of your character. Our character is never “done.” We all have areas to improve. But since character is built one right decision at a time—and lost one compromise at a time—stop wimping out concerning keeping commitments and do what you said you’d do, how you said you’d do it, and by when you said you’d do it, or don’t say it at all.

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