Keeping Commitments – An Attribute of Positive Leaders

Promises made – promises kept is a core value of mine. However, this value is a challenging one to keep. Have you ever made a commitment or a promise to do something, and then not done it? What do you think was the effect of you not keeping your commitment? You may think that it doesn’t really matter, no one will notice, or you may not even think about it at all.

But even if you feel like you are not in a leadership role, you are part of the face of the company or workplace and the brand to those outside the organization. Someone is watching how you show up in the world and what you do, even whether you do what you say you will do. Your values are on display through your actions every day.

Keeping commitments – a tale of two businesses

To illustrate I will give examples of two different service interactions I recently had with customer representatives. In the first one, I had signed a contract and paid a 50% deposit for the service to be done on a certain date. There were three parts to the service – one new installation and two repairs. The service representative scheduled all three services three months out because the new installation was going to take more lead time and the rep thought it would be more efficient to have one service call.

When the long-awaited date arrived, the technician showed up right on time for the new installation. When I asked about the repairs, they told me that they knew nothing about it. I tried to contact the service representative right away, but they didn’t initially respond to my calls or texts. When I finally got through a few days later, they committed to checking into what went wrong but I never heard back. After a week and multiple attempts to connect, I finally contacted the main office and asked to speak to a supervisor, who apologized for the poor communication and service and got someone out to do the repairs within two days. While ultimately the company made it right, that one customer service representative cost them my repeat business because of not keeping a commitment and poor follow-up.

Conversely, in the second interaction, I contracted with a small business to come to my house to do some work. They told me the date and time I could expect to have the work started and completed, and when I could expect the workers to arrive. They called me to confirm three days before the work was scheduled to begin and when the scheduled day came, they showed up exactly when they said they would. The work was done well and on schedule and I couldn’t be happier with the interactions with this small business. They demonstrated that they care about their customers by meeting their commitments.

Which business would you rather do business with? I think the answer is an obvious one. While the work was ultimately done well with both, the difference between the two situations came down to keeping commitments. When we make commitments, whether contractual or verbal ones, a commitment is a commitment.

The value of integrity
One of our Seasons Leadership values is Integrity. Included in that value is keeping commitments or promises and doing what we say we will do. Values are part of what we at Seasons Leadership call the Foundational Leadership Triad of Vision, Mission and Values. Values guide us; they are the principles we live by. We believe strongly in values-based leadership. It’s the differentiator of great leaders. But leadership isn’t just a hat you put on when you go into your job – as we’ve stated before, everyone is a leader to someone. Someone is watching how you show up in the world and what you do, even whether you do what you say you will do. Your values are on display through your actions every day, and when you value keeping commitments that will be clear to others.

Earlier in my career, I had a colleague, a senior manager in a large corporation, who had three children. He talked about his family all the time and told everyone how important they were to him. He demonstrated his values not only in the office, but at home with his family. He shared that when one of his children would ask him whether they could do something he would never say yes unless he was sure he could keep the commitment. He said that saying yes to making a commitment was making a promise and he took promises very seriously. Instead of making a commitment, his initial response would be, “Maybe; we will see.” He didn’t want to let his kids down by not being able to keep a promise and he didn’t want to teach them that it was okay to make a commitment and not keep it. His was teaching them that keeping commitments is important and he followed that same guideline in leading people at work.

I was so inspired by my colleague that I immediately adopted his approach with my own family and later used it at work. Promises made – promises kept became one of my core values. When we consistently keep our commitments, we build trust with those we interact with. Others see us as dependable and know that if we say we will do something we will do it. When you are in a leadership role, “Walking the Talk” is important. It sets an example for others. Great leaders exhibit many positive attributes and keeping commitments is an important one.

Even if you feel like you are not in a leadership role, you are the face of the company and the brand to those outside the organization, and your actions reflect on the organization and can even affect the reputation of the organization.

Take responsibility for breaking commitments
There may be times when you’ve made a commitment with the best of intentions, but something happens to impact that commitment and you can’t keep it. That has certainly happened to me, and it can be frustrating and disappointing. When that happens, put yourself into the shoes of the person you’ve made a commitment to and think about how you breaking the commitment affects them. The right thing to do is to let the person/people who you committed to know as soon as possible that you can’t keep the commitment and why you can’t keep it. It’s also important to make breaking commitments the rare exception rather than the norm.

In summary, keeping commitments is an attribute of great leaders (and parents, who are also leaders to their children). If you are not great at keeping commitments, you can still develop that skill starting now. Here are some guidelines to help you:

·      Don’t make a commitment you know you can’t keep.

·      Once you commit, do what you committed to do when you committed to do it.

·      If you must break a commitment, let the person/people you made the commitment to know as soon as possible and let them know why.

·      “Walk the Talk” in all aspects of your life.


For more information about values, check out Leadership and Principles free download.

Debbie Collard has 30+ years of leadership experience. She served on the National Baldrige Foundation Board of Directors for 15 years, including as the first female Chair of the Board. She is an iPEC- and ICF-Certified Professional Coach and co-author of The Making of a World- Class Organization, a practical guide for leaders to engage employees and increase profitability.

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