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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 12 November 2018

Reliability counts more than promises

Start delivering what you promise rather than promising to deliver what you can't.

Do you stick to your word? Careful to only promise and commit to what you can achieve? And if you can’t deliver, do you communicate honestly and as soon as pos­sible with the affected parties?

I once asked a group of young managers in a workshop: would you prefer to work with a friend who never keeps their word or an enemy who does? The entire group said they would prefer to work with enemies, those they could in some sense rely upon.

How often have you been let down by others who had agreed to say or to do something only to discover they had not done as they promised? Such moments can be hard to forget. Do you have colleagues who never do what they have agreed to? How does it make you feel? Do you keep getting annoyed with them?

Do you avoid relying on them for fear of them not completing tasks properly and/or on time? Some people are so keen to please that they will readily agree to, promise and commit to almost anything.

They never seem to learn and repeatedly miss deadlines and fail to deliver.

They seem blind to the idea of managing other peoples’ expectations never warning others that they are behind schedule or unable to do what they had promised. If you crave career success you must not become such a person. Here’s how:

Pause and reflect before making new promises and commitments

Give yourself time before rushing to respond to requests from your boss, colleagues and clients. Avoid being vague in how you respond. If you are not sure you can do what is being asked of you, do not say “I’ll try and let you know” as people could assume you will be completing the work. Instead, under-promise and then over-deliver. If you think a task will take one week, promise to do it in 10 days or in two weeks. Let the other party push back and negotiate if needed. You can then impress by completing the task in less time than expected.

Find ways of having the work done

Discover what recurring commitment issues you face, asking yourself how you might oper­ate differently to fulfil them. I coached a chief executive who was always late for meetings by letting himself get easily distracted. He solved this problem by having as many meetings as possible in his own office. This made it much harder for him to be late. Solving work issues will test your levels of creativity and innovation – discuss the commitments you struggle to fulfil and together you might be able to create workable solutions.

Push back with a no

When I was a finance director, I had an incredible workload and often struggled to read new project plans and revert to people. I always seemed to be late giving the other party my feedback and they would email or phone to chase me. This created anxiety and tension and I would then feel compelled to rush the tasks. This happened one too many times and I realised I could not go on not fulfilling my promises. I had to learn to push back, sometimes saying “sorry but I have no time”. I also had to learn to trust others and to delegate some of the work.

Walk your talk

You may discover that part of your problem is accepting too much work by always doing what is asked of you. You cannot say yes to everything. It can be hard saying no for fear of upsetting people and not being viewed as a high performer. But in addition to missing deadlines and annoying your colleagues and stakeholders, your over-promising may cause you stress and anxiety, as you will have to deal with people pushing you and complaining about you. Whether you are a new or an established employee, from today onwards “walk your talk”. Only accept and agree to tasks that you can complete and stop making false promises and saying yes all the time.

Nigel Cumberland, a Dubai-­based leadership and executive coach, trainer and author – whose books include Secrets of Success at Work – 50 techniques to Excel – is a founder of The Silk Road Partnership and a member of the Gulf Coaching Alliance