“Leaders who win the respect of others are the ones who deliver more than they promise, not the ones who promise more than they can deliver” (Mark A Clement)

Frequently, promises are made glibly, with little thought given to delivery. Often motivated from good intent, promises are designed to give people hope – the promise of something better than they have currently. Some promises, however, are selfishly intended, designed to create allegiance, get a person’s vote, or ensure conformity, submission, or obedience. The latter, when unmet, results in the very opposite effect, creating distrust, anger, and rebellion.

Promises should be aligned to personal and organisational brand, values, and integrity. Their aim should be to fulfil higher level purposes and not debase or selfish ambitions. Promises need to be the enactment of good character, credibility, and care. Without the investment of upright tenets, values, and principles, promises ring hollow and end up as unbelievable.

When promise delivery fails, collateral damage is the inevitable result:

  1. The brand is tarnished – the brand’s integrity gets damaged and allegiance to the brand wanes. Faith in the brand erodes and people go elsewhere to satisfy their needs.
  2. Trust is destroyed – people no longer have faith in the promise-giver and see the person as duplicitous and devious. As one person expressed about the president of his country: “Isn’t it sad that I have to find my inspiration from other people’s presidents, as mine is busy with his own selfish ambitions”.
  3. People lose hope – the very culture of the business, organisation, or country degenerates into feelings of loss, sadness, and anger. This growing dissatisfaction accelerates discontent and anger, sometimes resulting in violence and/or subversive behaviour.

The bigger the promise, the less likely the leader is to live up to it. Leaders shouldn’t just say what the people want to hear, but rather tell them what they think they can reasonably offer. Caution should be exercised in making promises and progress communication regarding promise completion should be consistent. Consistency retains hope and lets others know that the promise has not slipped off the agenda.

Promises, promises, promises … easy to make, but hard to keep. Faith in leadership is made or broken on the leader’s ability to maintain credibility, fulfil promises, and work for the greater good of all followers.

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