Make Commitments You Can Honor and Honor Your Commitments

One of our most important assets is our reputation and it is important to build and guard your reputation. One of the ways we do this is honoring the commitments we make. Therefore, it is important to consider a commitment before we make it to determine our willingness, ability, and likelihood of honoring it. This holds true for concrete deals like an employment contract and to implied deals made to colleagues or direct reports. As a leader, we need to be very thoughtful about our words.

How to Determine if We Can Honor the Commitment

Assuming that the commitment is being made in good faith and we intend to honor it, the reality is that sometimes our focus is distracted from honoring our part of the deal. To this end here are three things to consider when making a commitment to ensure that you are making a commitment that you can and will honor.


Is our goal to help the other person or is our goal to help ourselves? Ideally the deal will benefit both parties, but how we perceive the benefits of the commitment can influence our follow-through. The more we perceive self benefit, whether tangible or intangible, the more likely we are to prioritize what we have agreed to do and honor the commitment.


What is the timing of the benefit versus our commitment? Do we benefit after all parts of the agreement have come to pass or is our benefit happen before we honor our portion of the commitment. Unfortunately, after we have received the benefit, we are more likely to be distracted by other things and lose focus on what we have promised to do and it is easier for other things to become prioritized after we have already received the benefit.

People Involved

Who needs to be involved to meet the commitment and what resources are involved? Before making a deal, we need to consider who else will be impacted and what resources we need. We need to consider if we have the authority to make the commitment and will it require action on the part of one or more others. If the deal involves others to approve actions taken or to take the actions on our behalf, we need to be careful when making the commitment because we are speaking for others. We also need to understand the resources involved and make sure they are at our disposal.

What Happens When You Can’t Honor the Commitment?

Even when you have considered these things before making a commitment, things can go awry, but we should be committed to making sure that these are the rare exception, not the rule. If we do find ourselves unable to honor a commitment, we can minimize the loss of reputation by handling it properly:

  1. Take ownership – It is important that we take personal responsibility for the issue. Shifting blame or pretending the commitment didn’t exist will only harm our reputation more. People will resent a leader’s inability to take responsibility and lose respect for the person.
  2. Apologize – Humbling yourself and saying you are sorry can be a difficult thing to do. In a society that espouses, “friendship means never having to say you are sorry” and tells us that admitting fault is a weakness, it takes great courage to apologize. In reality an apology is a sign of strength and good character. We all makes mistakes, but it is a true leader who can admit them and people respect someone who will apologize.
  3. Make it Right – In the end, you need to do what you can to make it right. You may be able to honor the commitment on a delayed schedule or have to come up with an alternative, but you should do what you can to make it right within your ability. Others will respect your effort and it demonstrates that you care about your commitments and don’t take them casually.

As leaders, our words and commitments are on always on display to be evaluated by those around us. We must consider our commitments and be conscious of implied commitments to make sure they are ones we can and will honor. When we are unable to honor a commitment, it is essential that we take ownership, apologize, and try to make it right.

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