When a Promise is Unkept, It Opens Many Doors…
(Few are helpful)
In the summer of 1862, Abraham Lincoln spoke to a large crowd on the Capitol steps. The Civil War was not going well for the Union and there was a growing outcry for the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, to be replaced. The rhetoric around his competency in office was getting ugly.
Lincoln held a personal commitment to never let a subordinate take the blame for his decisions. He not only thought Stanton was exactly who should be in the role, but he recognized that every significant decision Stanton had made held the sanction of the President. Lincoln opened his comments, saying that he was reluctant to ever speak, unless he might produce some good by it. He then declared there was something that needed to be said, and that it was not better said by someone else!
It was “a matter in which we have heard some other person blamed for what I did myself.”
A major grievance against Stanton was his not sending soldiers to the front when they were needed, when in fact every soldier available had been sent (the war was being fought in at least three theaters).
Lincoln continued, “the Secretary of War was not to be blamed for not giving when he had none to give.” As a positive shift in the crowd began, Lincoln continued “I believe he is a brave and able man and I am here, as justice requires me to do, to take upon myself what he has been accused of.” This simple standing upon his commitment brought the whole issue surrounding Stanton to an end, and eliminated a distraction from the pursuit of victory.
I have shared this event before, from Doris Goodwin’s exceptional book on Lincoln, A Team of Rivals. I find it such an exemplary example of owning and standing on what one is committed to.
I find it hard to talk about making commitments and promises without talking about accountability and integrity.
It’s as if their root systems have grown together. Be Accountable will be the next Fundamental of the Week.
So what is a promise? Webster frames it as something sent before that implies something is at hand. It is a declaration that gives the person to whom it is made the right to expect and claim the performance of the act. If you think about that expectation, it is a powerful statement.
Our world functions on the commitments that we make, either to others or to ourselves. Fernando Flores, a remarkable and accomplished Chilean man and author of Conversations for Action, spoke of commitments and promises as the only speaking that produces action.
Our credibility and performance are products of our discipline in keeping our commitments and promises. When we don’t keep promises, it opens up all kinds of portals for mischief. Our credibility with others is diminished, possibly critical results do not get produced, time and resources can get wasted, we become a victim of circumstances, and our self regard is diminished. We won’t even get into the stress this produces!
In fairness, Flores does comment that every promise includes the right to revoke. In life, a number of circumstances can thwart our intent to fulfill a commitment. I can revoke a commitment, and I then have accountability to immediately communicate to the holder of my commitment and set a new understanding. I can still bring honor to my commitments if they are not going to be fulfilled, if, I’m willing to own the consequences. This includes the promises I make to myself. These seem harder.
244 years ago, this month, The Declaration of Independence was ratified.
Among other things, it declared the United States to be a country where all were created equal. What it didn’t declare was that “some pigs are more equal than others!” (George Orwell’s Animal Farm)
This is a promise not kept and we don’t have to look very far to see how that’s going. That is an unkept promise for which we all own and bear pain.
I have found living this fundamental, Honor Commitments, takes lasting vigilance, and the more disciplined I become, the more I see areas of my life to apply this to. How you and I deal with this fundamental makes a profound difference in our lives and those around us.
Just consider; how many commitments have you made, not kept, and either justified it, or just didn’t acknowledge it? (We won’t even include ourselves).
If you want to personally experience the power of this fundamental, make a list of recent commitments you have made to someone, not kept and not acknowledged or justified. And notice if you came up with a good enough justification it was like you did what you said.
Then go back, clean up your mess, and see how much of a difference it makes for you!
Thank you for getting here, and now I have to go fulfill my promise to Marlene to vacuum the floor. Have a great week! Cheers and Blessings, Craig
Fundamental of the Week #11: HONOR COMMITMENTS Be reliable and deliver on all your commitments, no matter how small. If a commitment is in jeopardy, notify others immediately and set a new commitment.