JW Way Fundamental #7: Honor your commitments.
“Do what you say you are going to do when you say you are going to do it. If a commitment can’t be fulfilled, tell others early and agree on a new commitment.”
It is easy to honor some commitments. As lawyers we have deadlines, court appearances, and scheduled dates we must comply with. Those are calendared, we get reminders and we have to do whatever is required. But JW Way #7 goes far beyond calendared deadlines.
- It means NOT BEING LATE. If you set a time to meet someone or to be somewhere at a certain time, that was a promise. If you say you will provide a deliverable to you client, or will finish a project by a certain time, that is every bit a commitment, too. Your commitment to be on time is just as important and we all need to think about timeliness when thinking about commitments.
- It means making REASONABLE commitments. Sometimes, in the heat of a moment, you are asked to do something and you agree because the person asking wants you to do it fast. Lawyers may promise clients action before it is possible; staff may promise to do something before they can reasonably hope to finish it. Keeping commitments means thinking about what you are commitment to, and only making a commitment when you know you can keep it.
- It means doing WHAT you said you would. If you promise to clean the dishes, or finish a contract or file a motion, then your job is to do it. You should be doing exactly what you said you would do, or your commitment could become meaningless.
- It means doing it WHEN you said you would. A hallmark of keeping commitments is being on time. That means doing what you said you would do who you said you would do it. If you are late, many would see that as the same as not keeping the commitment at all.
- It means HONESTY when you find you cannot keep a commitment. Don’t wait to own up. You know when you can’t finish whatever you promised to do. When that happens, don’t hide your inability to finish on time.
- It means a new meaningful commitment. Learn from your mistakes. If you aren’t getting it done when you said you would, make the new commitment realistic and this time absolutely honor it.
We all have personal stories that likely relate to each of the JW Way fundamentals. Mine aren’t always good, and the reason I am writing about this particular JW Way is because it has been one of my greatest challenges. I often keep people waiting. I too often am late on deliverables I promise clients, and I have a stack of undone things on my desk. For me, the greatest challenge is in making the commitment in the first place. I want to please and do good, and so I take on too much. I promise a contract or motion, hoping I’ll get it done when they want it. I’ll schedule too many meetings, hoping I’ll be on time for each.
I know better, but that is not enough. This particular JW Way fundamental belongs at the top of my list of goals because it has been one of my most difficult to overcome. And that is why it is good to talk about it. For me, the most important learning here is to only agree to do that which you can reasonably do.