Great Leaders Say What They’re Going to Do… Then They Do It.

We’re all consumers. Sometimes, we’re fortunate enough to experience great customer service. But that certainly isn’t always true; we’ve all been disappointed or underwhelmed by bad service. And it sucks every time. 

When a company doesn’t do what they say they’re going to do and they fail to execute follow-through again and again, you stop buying from that company. The same is true for people. When your boss or team member consistently fails to deliver on a commitment, you stop relying on them as well. A failure to follow through causes real damage to the relationship between customer and company, as well as person to person.

That damage also extends to the team. When a company has customer service issues, it’s usually not because they aspire to deliver bad service or want to neglect their customers. It’s because internally, they’re not hitting their commitments to one another. That’s why, if you want your brand to inspire trust externally, start internally with your team and establish a culture where people do what they say.

If you are part of a team, make no mistake, someone is counting on you for something. Likewise, you are always in need of something from a fellow team member. And it’s not just your company’s brand at stake—it’s your own brand as well.

Credibility Matters

Your credibility, or lack thereof, is your brand. It’s who you are, and it’s your reputation. Being a leader means serving your team and your people the way you would want to be served if you were the client: you want to be told what’s going to happen; then you want it to actually happen. Trust sets the table for your entire operation.

Failing to deliver on a promise made to a client compromises the brand and reputation of the company. It’s no different internally. When a team member commits to doing something but doesn’t do it, that team member’s personal brand takes a hit. 

As a leader, it’s your responsibility to lead by example in establishing a follow-through culture—a culture that cares about each and every team member’s personal brand. When you’re bad at honoring your commitments to another member of the team, it’s not a leap to assume you’re equally bad as it relates to your customers. 

Likewise, when you’re good at internal follow-through, you’re much more likely to slam-dunk external follow-through with your clients. You see, it’s nearly impossible for a team of high-integrity, brand-conscious individuals to deliver bad service to its customers if they first honor their commitments to one another.

It (Really) Matters Internally

You probably recognize this scenario: at meetings, people often take on commitments or volunteer for tasks, usually with the best of intentions. However, that energy often wanes the moment the meeting ends. They forget what motivated them to make that commitment because it’s not nearly as palpable as it was in the environment of the meeting, with the team around them.

Now take that loss of motivation and momentum, and pair it with ambiguous expectations and minimal follow-up from the boss. With no one looking over their shoulder, that employee is now even less motivated and less pressured to complete the task.

Then it goes south. “Oh crap, I’ve got this thing that I’m still supposed to do,” said everyone at some point in their career. This oh crap moment creates a domino effect with other commitments. Welcome to occupational triage: “Well, I can move that task back because I’ve actually got a due date on this other one…something’s got to give.”

We’ve all been there; however, it’s the leader’s job to tighten up follow-through within the team. When you’ve got a team member who’s constantly scrambling to keep up with commitments or often fails to deliver on the tasks they’ve been assigned, you’ve got a problem. Your team has a problem. Can you and the rest of the team count on this person? Are they really going to be there for you—much less a client?

Follow Through on Commitments

No organizational culture can thrive without trust that people will do what they say they’re going to do. A leader who doesn’t follow through isn’t doing the right thing, and they’re failing to set a positive example. 

As renowned leadership guru John C. Maxwell said, “Diligent follow-up and follow-through will set you apart from the crowd and communicate excellence.” In fact, Maxwell asserts that follow-up is a cornerstone for establishing trust. Should my team trust I’ll have their back in times of trouble when I couldn’t deliver on a promise when things were running smoothly? Why should they?

The most effective way to make team members feel devalued is to be absent, ignore them, or fail to follow through on commitments. For example, let’s say I have a direct report in a coaching session, and I tell him he’s not quite hitting the mark in managing a strategic project with multiple moving pieces and competing priorities.

“You’re right, Kyle,” he says. “I have a firm grasp of our progress; it’s just that I’ve never been very good using Microsoft Project, so it’s hard for me to quantify our progress to the level of detail you’d like. Any chance I could get some formal training on Project?”

“Sure,” I say. “I bet we could figure that out. Let me see what’s available.” 

Always Come Through for Your People

Now, if I do my job as his leader and actually get him the information he needs, then great. I’m following through, and my team member feels heard, valued, and respected. My brand is safe. But what if I don’t? What if I forget because I didn’t write it down or I put it on the backburner for too long? (This is my oh crap moment.)

My employee feels unimportant and undervalued. It goes without saying, his project management skills won’t improve. His updates will continue to fail my standards, and we’ll both know it.

Trust? Gone. Leadership Gap? Widened. My poor follow-through alienates him, compromising his and the team’s effectiveness. But who was it that actually failed? Me.

In the end, failing to come through for your people creates a divide between you as their leader and your team as the subordinates. When you report to me, and I commit to do something for you and don’t deliver, there are no concrete repercussions for me. Maybe you like me a little less, or maybe my reputation takes a hit, but otherwise, I don’t face consequences.

However, when you as my subordinate commit to do something for me and don’t deliver, I can fire you. That’s one hell of a concrete repercussion. This kind of imbalance creates a class system and sows distrust.

The Leadership Business

Leaders are in the service business—but a leader’s primary objective isn’t to serve customers. You serve your team, who ultimately serve the customer. When you make a commitment to do something for a customer, the expectation is you’ll do it. Why should things be any different behind the curtain for your team members?

Here’s the point: when you sign up to be a leader, your employees are your customers.

I realize this may sound like happy-talk, but there’s a pretty solid practical element to consider. Leaders need their people to do what they’ve been asked and what they’ve agreed to do. The team is more likely to do it, and do it well, if credibility exists and they feel connected with their leader.

For more advice on how to up your leadership game, you can find Begin With WE on Amazon.

Kyle McDowell is an author, speaker, and leadership coach with nearly three decades of experience leading tens of thousands of employees at some of the biggest companies in the United States. With an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, Kyle is widely known for his inspiring approaches to transforming bosses into leaders and reshaping corporate cultures.