“Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes; but no plans.” – Peter F. Drucker, American educator and writer
A few years ago, I made a pact and it was as follows: to honor the commitments that I make. I had reached a point where my word began to mean very little. I would make plans with friends and the day of would cancel; I would commit to a deadline and that deadline would pass without the deliverable; I would commit to going to the gym three days a week and then let my gym membership lapse. Even though I knew I was disappointing others and losing my credibility, the biggest disappointment was with myself. As we move into February, the month where most of our New Year’s resolutions begin to fade, let’s reflect on commitments and why they are a critical part of your personal and professional life.
Let’s start with why most commitments get broken. The major reason is because they should never have been made in the first place. We make commitments for many reasons: a) we don’t want to disappoint someone or be impolite; b) we think they’ll forget; c) we were taught that saying “no” is bad; d) it felt like a good idea at the time. It’s also rather easy to get out of a commitment, particularly in the age of texting and email. You agree to something in person and then later cancel via a text. Voila! Typically, most people are rather understanding because they probably chronically cancel plans or deadlines as well (in fact, they were going to cancel on you before you canceled on them!). So, there’s this universal pact that we can agree to something but, most likely, we’re going to need to cancel when it comes down to it.
I want to be clear that I’m not talking about the occasional cancellation that has to happen; I’m talking about consistent and regular canceling. I’m talking about those plans that the moment you commit to them, you’re already planning your out. I’m mostly talking about those commitments that you make to yourself that you never plan to act on. The ones that make you lose credibility with…yourself.
Where do we go from here? My first recommendation is to commit to what you wholeheartedly believe you can deliver on. If it’s work-related, realistically consider the circumstances of what is being asked of you. I’m always amazed by people who take jobs with long commutes and then complain about the commute. Of course, when you accepted the job and made a commitment to that employer to be there at a regular time each day, you were aware of the commute. Be mindful of what you’re agreeing to and go into it with all intentions of honoring that agreement. There is no quicker way to make an employer lose confidence in you than not honoring even the smallest of commitments like showing up to work on time on a regular basis.
Secondly, if you’ve made a commitment or deadline and you realize that it’s not going to work, then address it is as soon as possible, personally, and offer an alternative, if appropriate. What you want to avoid is a situation where there is no acknowledgement of your responsibility. I’m sure you’ve been on the receiving end of those situations. Someone told you they would get back to you by Wednesday and now it’s Friday and you haven’t heard back. You want to be someone people can count on.
Thirdly, expect others to honor the commitments they make to you. Create an environment of accountability with others. If you’re behaving differently and being responsible, then expect others to have the same regard for their word with you. It’ll set the circumstances by which you can operate and plan as well.
And finally, creating and honoring commitments is a part of living in integrity and building character. As I mentioned earlier, the first person you hurt when you stray from this is yourself. You begin to lose credibility in your own word and, that, more than anything, will affect not only your career, but your personal life as well.