Let’s talk about promise.
People swear into office. You vow to your spouse. If you have children, you’re basically saying “I’m going to care for these beings until they are big enough to care for themselves.” You pledge allegiance, perhaps to a group, maybe even to a country. These are all forms of promises we’re making, oaths that are rituals we’ve been conducting for thousands of years. They’re baked into who we are.
We agree as a society that promises are good. Not just making promises, but we all seem to agree that making good on your promises is a virtue. So when you agree to work someplace or for someone, you are actually making a promise.
What do promises do?
Promises will put you on the hook. They will state your intentions. They will allow for and aid in creating accountability. They align with integrity, something being whole and complete. As stated. They show a specific attitude. They demonstrate a certain degree of commitment. They demonstrate a posture of power and competence and effectiveness. Finally, I’d say they suggest what is possible.
When you think of something, somebody, or an idea having promise or showing promise, it’s all about potential. It’s about the future. When you make a promise, you’re saying “This is what I stand for. This is a commitment that I’m going to make. This is something that I am going to make real.”
Think about when you don’t live up to your promises: it really is a form of dishonesty, though it’s not necessarily intentional. But even if unintended, it’s still a form of dishonesty. If you make a promise to a kid and you do not make good on it, they will absolutely call you on it. “But you promised! But you said!” It reminds us that we need to be very careful about the promises that we make. If we make a promise, people are going to expect us to follow through on it.
So what the heck does that actually have to do with your work?
With your craft? With your art? With the way that you make a living? I would say that promise is the most effective way to ensure that you are doing powerful work that matters. So if you can think about the work that you do and the outcomes that you’re trying to create, for yourself and for the people that are counting on you–your peers, your co-workers, perhaps your clients–I think there’s nothing more powerful than thinking of it like a promise.
This can work at the individual level for certain, but I also think it can work at a company or organizational level. For Of the Sea, we say that our promise is “To do whatever it takes to empower owner-operators to achieve their lofty dreams.”
Notice we’re not talking about creating advertising which is part of our core service. We’re not talking about the internal cultural work or the customer experience work that we perform for our clients. The advertising, the culture, the customer experience, they necessarily need to happen in order for us to fulfill this promise, but they aren’t the promise. They’re components of how we fulfill the promise.
My promise is “to do whatever it takes to empower and equip my team and our clients to be top performers.” That’s as owner-operator of Of the Sea, lead consultant to our clients, and the person who is responsible for the culture here at Of the Sea. I as a leader in this organization can make this promise then I am absolutely putting myself on the hook. I am deciding to approach our work in a very specific way. I am choosing to approach and relate to my co-workers and to our clients in a very specific way.
It’s not just something that I know for myself. It’s something that I can share. That I can relay to others. I tell our clients what our purpose is. I tell our clients what our promise is, so they know what we’re committed to on their behalf. I talk about this inside of our company. Everyone here at Of the Sea has a clearly-stated purpose, a clearly-stated promise, and a clearly-stated place. They all serve the specific role that the individual is playing, so it’s less about the person and more about the role they’re playing. Then, all those tie in to this greater purpose, promise, and place for Of the Sea.
Anything that’s done well is going to be done with intention. Promise should be intentional. We should know what is really motivating us to have the right posture as we relate to it and then to actually declare it to yourself, declare it to your teammates, and declare it to your clients. When it comes to your company advertising, for example, you declare a promise to the world. It might not be explicitly stated as a promise but your advertising is certainly going to have that promise in mind. And you can be certain that your people are advertising your promise, or lack of one, in every interaction they have with each other and the public you serve.
People love people that make and keep promises.
That’s who I want to be. That’s who I want our team to be. It’s what I want our company to be. I believe that’s who our clients want us to be.
So, what’s the promise your company is making?
What’s the promise you’re making as a leader?
What promises are you inspiring your team to make?
What promises are your clients or customers expecting you to make?