Promises, Promises…

…for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.

I’ll pick you up from school. We’ll get something to eat then we’ll go swimming.

We’ll have it done by Friday. I’ll e-mail you the link then I’ll give you a ring and we can chat through it.

A promise to your spouse: a promise to your child and a promise to a client. Call me old-fashioned, but I can’t see any difference between the three of them.

I’ve often quoted from the late Stephen Covey in this blog. Here’s one that I keep coming back to time after time: ‘Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.’

In the old days a man’s word was his bond. John D Rockefeller gave us the archetypal quotation: ‘I believe in the sacredness of a promise, that a man’s word should be as good as his bond, that character – not wealth or power or position – is of supreme worth.’

Well goodness me, didn’t that become an unfashionable notion? ‘Greed is good’ as Gordon Gekko cheerfully reminded us, and if breaking your promise was what you do had to do, well… it was the other guy’s stupid fault for thinking he could rely on a handshake. No contract? No non-disclosure agreement? Whadda they teach ’em in business school these days?

As I say, call me old-fashioned…

Two weeks ago I was at a networking lunch – which was fine, except that I felt dreadful. A summer cold, add in a liberal sprinkling of hay fever and Ed wasn’t a happy boy. Should I go to the lunch? I really did feel awful; I didn’t want to pass my germs on to other people and I didn’t want other people there studiously avoiding me and muttering ‘why doesn’t he stay at home instead of infecting everyone else?’

Except that I had been specifically invited by a good friend of mine. She’d absolutely have understood if I’d phoned and said I was ill, but I couldn’t do that. No, I hadn’t said, ‘I promise to be there.’ But I had said, ‘Thanks, that would be great. I’ll look forward to it.’

So I had a moral obligation to a friend and I wasn’t going to break it.

One of the first – and most important – business lessons I learned was from Frank, my manager at Diageo. “It’s simple, Ed,” he said. “Do what you say you’re going to do. That’s how you build trust.”

It’s a lesson that’s stuck with me. Doing what you say you’re going to do differentiates the people that are in it for the long haul. So I’ll regularly start e-mails with ‘as promised’ or ‘as we discussed’ because I committed to doing something (however small) at a 1-2-1 meeting or when I met someone. I want to make the point that I’m delivering on my promise – that if I say I’ll do something then it will get done.

A key part of this is saying ‘no’ – something we’ve covered in previous editions of the blog. You simply cannot do everything people ask you to do. Over the past couple of years I’ve turned down some really attractive opportunities. Why? Because I couldn’t do them and keep all my existing commitments and promises – not least to my wife and children.

Keeping your word and delivering what you say you’ll deliver costs you nothing. If you want to look at it in purely business terms keeping promises is one of the best investments you can ever make. For me it runs deeper than that – doing what I say I’ll do is just part of who I am, whether I’m with my wife, my children or the members of a Board.

…And I’m certain that every Board member reading this blog would say the same: working with people like that on a daily basis is a large part of what makes my job so rewarding.

But I must end with an apology. If you were at a networking lunch a couple of weeks ago and now have an evil summer cold, yes, you probably did catch it from me. I’m sorry – but as you’ve seen, I simply had to be there…


  1. simonjhudson · May 16, 2014

    I couldn’t agree more.

    Slick patter, the charming personality, an attractive proposition: these might all lead to an initial involvement (whether courting a client or a lover); but it is staying true to your word and fulfilling promises that create a lasting relationship.

    Of course there are also sometimes been saying no to the person you are in the relationship with (business or otherwise); no one said it would be easy.

    • edreidyork · May 16, 2014

      Wouldn’t it be great to have slick patter, charm and personality, and STILL deliver on your promises!?! I’ve got a feeling you may already be there, Simon

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