Check before you promise


Have you secured that ‘yes’?

It happens all the time, and it is one of the most common leadership traps. You cannot deliver on a promise you have made because delivery would require people you have not involved or resources that are not yet committed. It is a characteristic of the typical entrepreneur to over-sell, to the extent that it’s almost part of the job.

As a rule, don’t promise something that involves other people without checking with them first. When my children are invited to birthday parties, it is usually their parents who send out invitations by email to the other children’s parents (like me). Sometimes I have replied ‘yes’ just to get the reply off, minimize the list of tasks on my to-do list, and put the event in the diary. Children always want to go to parties anyway, yes? Well, no. It happens that my children, on the day of the party, don’t want to go at all. I remind them that you should always show up if you have committed to be somewhere. But then they remind me that I did not ask them if they wanted to go to the party, and they are thereby not committed at all. In all fairness, I have to admit they’re right. I did not check with the people involved before making a promise to someone else.

To make plans and promises involving others without involving them in the decisions is to treat them like children. And even children do not want to be treated like children. They want respect.

In a business, the typical example is sales people promising customers delivery of something that they have no control over, since it might require further development from the product department, who have not been consulted. But it’s not just sales people who do this, it can happen to anyone who is under pressure to deliver. So, check before you promise something if the fulfilment of that promise in any way relies on other people or resources. Taking someone else’s time and commitment for granted is a sure way to demotivate people.