It’s often said that diets don’t work. That’s wrong. Most diets work fine – it’s the people who don’t work. It’s the same for leadership.

Think about it – as a leader, how many times each day does someone tell you something like this: “I’m going to try to get that done by the time requested.”

And then what do you do? Accept the statement? Or push back? Most leaders, unfortunately, accept it.

When someone is committed to something, that means they intend to do it. And then it gets done. On the other hand, if someone can only say that he or she will try to do it, that’s different. The implication is that there are so many variables in the way; it’s pretty unlikely it’s will actually get done as requested.

Next you’ll hear, “I couldn’t get it done because of x or y or z. There wasn’t anything I could do about that. Sorry.”

That person’s off the hook. But the task wasn’t completed in a timely fashion, so the organization is behind or misses a critical path indicator. And you, as the leader, have to deal with the outcome.

When I am working with a client who says that (s)he is going to try to get something done, I hear an alarm bell. I become alerted to the idea that they are probably going to come back to me with a reason why something didn’t get done, as opposed to how they achieved the objective we had. You can check my rationale easily. Start paying attention to the real successes in your organization. Doesn’t matter what level they’re at, most very successful people say things in a manner that makes it really clear what is going to be done. On the other hand, the rest of the population use words that leave them “wiggle room” for an outcome that is less-than-desired.

An old Chinese proverb says, “there is no try, only do.”

As a leader, it is very important that you learn to always speak powerfully. Avoid words and watch for any of them from others that leave a back door open for escape. Sometimes, commitment is called for even when you don’t know how you will get something done. It can be scary, but it’s very powerful.

At Business Success, we started using something with some of our clients called “commitment bonds”. These work by helping the individual to face the fact that they are skating around an issue and not dealing with it head-on. Here’s how it works:

Say you know someone who says he’s going to quit smoking. But you’ve heard this before. Ask them for a date by when they’ll quit smoking, and then ask if they are truly committed to it. When they say yes, ask them if they are so confident that they’ll make a commitment bond that causes them to do something if they fail. In the example, I may ask the client if he’ll write me a check that can be cashed if they crater on their commitment. And the kicker is, the check has to be made out to some organization that they really would never want to support. For example, perhaps a strong Democrat might have to make the check to the Republican National Committee. Or someone who is very pro-environment would have to make the check payable to a lobbying firm retained by a mining consortium in Alaska. You get the picture.

If the individual is truly committed they give me the check. The others show their real expectations for the outcome.

As a leader, it is up to you to figure out how to help your team members accomplish their goals. A good start would be your decision to stop accepting the words, “I’ll try.”

– john

Leadership Coach