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A 7 Word Sequence that Changes Everything

I’m 56 years old and I’m embarrassed to say that it’s taken me so long to figure this out:

People who consistently follow through on their words are exceedingly rare.

Unfortunately, most of us, no matter how well-intentioned we may be, let our words fly out of our mouths with reckless abandon without realizing that the person we’re talking to is hearing us with critical precision.

We think we’re just spewing words; they’re hearing a commitment, a pledge, a vow to follow up and deliver.

I believe that we’ve let ourselves get away with mindless lip flapping for far too long; therefore, let me suggest this: if you could, somehow, hold yourself ridiculously accountable to your own words, if you spoke with a contractual attitude, you could earn a tremendous competitive advantage over 99% of the population. You could earn the rare status of the person whose word truly is their bond. Imagine the cred you’d gain.

I don’t mean to be preachy. Truth is, I’m lecturing myself more than anyone. None of us is perfect, and neither is the world we live in. But I can tell you this: since I’ve been thinking deeply about this subject, I am intensely more aware of my own words, and much more upset with myself when I don’t follow through on even the smallest of commitments. Because in truth, there is no such thing as a small commitment, simply because each feels gigantic to the recipient.

So, yeah, I’ve been beating up on myself more than usual. But the good news is that I’m also getting much better at that follow-through thing.

So let’s try something together. For the next week, pay very close attention to your own words and challenge yourself to treat your every utterance as though you’ve just signed a contract. Just try it. See what it does to your thought process, and, even more important, your actions. And I’ll do the same.

Because I said I would. (Get the point?)

Years ago, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner coined a 7-word phrase that would change everything if we took it seriously:

DWYSYWD: Do What You Say You Will Do

Let’s try it for a week and see what happens.



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  1. Randy Felsenthal says:

    Steve, Agree, easier said than done (all
    pun intended). You are right; we have control over what we say we will
    do. There is responsibility though on both parties to the
    conversation. We need to stand up to someone else’s pressure
    to force us to commit to something. At the same time we
    should be aware of the consequences to others and the credibility/trust
    we lose when not following through.

    Your post has prompted me to think about promises I’ve made this week and what
    I’ve delivered. I’ve also thought twice about making commitment with no
    intent on delivery.

    Take it one step deeper. What about commitments we make
    to ourselves; lose weight, exercise more, follow the ten biblical

    Let’s all be aware of what we commit to others and ourselves.

  2. Thanks so much for this Steve. I have found myself to be guilty of this more and more and if you had asked me this two years ago, if I did this to others I would have disagreed profusely.

    After receiving a diagnosis of stage 4 cancer last year I really was shut down for some time and was not able to make good on many promises. Stuff happens and that is OK, but after using my cancer a few times as an excuse, it brought to my mind how often I had used other excuses in the past, for not following through with commitments to myself and others.

    I am learning to take responsibility for my actions and inactions and your post really hit home for me.

    I too often am trying to do too much, spreading myself too thin and putting myself into overwhelm at the cost of my client and myself.

    I really need to be honest with others and myself about what I can and cannot accomplish or at least not make a warranty I cannot guarantee.

    I am surprised to read many of the comments here and find that only a few actually admitted to being guilty of this.

    Failing forward is a good thing and the more risk we take and the more we fail the bigger the reward, I also believe in thinking big and testing your limits.being small helps no one, but over promising and under delivering also helps no one.


    BTW I just listened to your audio book Greater Than Yourself…. love the way you tell a story.

  3. I wrote a post on my blog on how DWYSYWD packs a lot in such a simple phrase.

  4. cathy carfagno says:

    Thank you Steve for this post and the challenge !!!! I’m in. Agree that this simple idea would help and will really try myself to maintain this. Strongly agree that trust and connection in any relationship is based on this. Really makes you think down to the smallest commitment…so logical but hard to do. We want to keep everyone happy but by over commiting and not coming through ends up hurting the relationship

  5. In my words “be congruent”. I’ve made people that say “I am or I do…” and they do the opposite! It’s annoying.
    Thanks for the reminder Steve.

  6. Batch says:

    Steve, thanks for calling us out of the 99%. As you confessed, I also struggle with the challenge of taking my own words too lightly, and I returned from the Extreme Leadership Summit (which was awesome, BTW) determined to focus on DWYSYWD. It was really interesting to me that you chose this time, just a week later, to write this blog post. Great reinforcement for the message I took away from the Summit.
    On a really practical level, one of the things that I am trying to do is to write down EVERY commitment/promise that I make. While that may sound obvious, it is a real change in habit for me. It makes each commitment much more real, much more like a contract. I am capturing them in Evernote so they are always with me. I will let you know how my progress goes. With Love, Energy, Audacity and Proof!

    • That’s awesome, Batch! I’m curious to see how many promises you make in a typical week. Can’t wait to hear how it goes for you.

      • Steve,
        So here’s my score – 69 promises kept out of 107 promises made. I am batting 0.644; better than I feared, but nowhere near what I aspire to. Here was my process – for the past week, I captured every promise / commitment I made. As some of the other folks suggested in these comments, I captured promises to myself, my family, my co-workers and anyone else that I interact with. I also captured implied commitments, like the one I made to you to let you know my progress. Then, at the end of each day, I scored myself, rolling over/rescheduling any promises not kept that day. A promise rolled over to another day counts as unkept in the total, and kept when it is delivered; I
        am not sure about that part of my scoring – that that’s the right way to account for something not done – but it does force me to evaluate when I can actually deliver on a promise that’s blown. There probably should be some metric for promises delivered when originally promised. I may try that next week.

        I capture every commitment by recording it in Evernote. The availability of my “Promise” list on my phone, my iPad and my PC, backed up by writing in my WUP book if necessary, made it easier to capture every commitment. I am not a natural list maker/keeper. This was a pretty substantial change in behavior. I have, in the past, relied on my memory, which, I am sure, is a root cause of many of my broken promises. Capturing every promise is tough, but well worth it. I could just see that, often late in the day, I would check through my list and take action on a promise that I am quite sure would have just been left for the next day or, more likely, just forgotten. I will let you know how I do in Week 2 of the “DWYSYWD Challenge” !

        There, as I push the “Post” button, that’s one more commitment DONE!

  7. Being your Word is the essence of any relationship. What
    else will build trust, connection? In what other way can we be
    “self-truthful”? Thank you Steve and bravo for this magnificent post
    and great challenge to us all!! Count me in! There is no such thing as a small commitment…so simple, so true 🙂

    • And speaking of “self-truthful,” Sanila, this also holds true for the commitments we make to ourselves, doesn’t it? That can be even more challenging. I’m way too willing to let myself off the hook for promises I’ve made to myself.

  8. Heather Cournoyer says:

    Ties right in with the first of the “Four Agreements”. Be impeccable with your word doesn’t it?

  9. I could not agree more. I have found that our logos (words) become the legos (building blocks) of our future.

  10. Omar Halabieh says:

    This post strongly resonates with my personal philosophy Steve and I also share the sentiments of my fellow commentators. I would also add that following this mantra also makes us be thoughtful about what we say and thus leads to improved and higher quality communication.

  11. Miles Kierson says:

    It’s great to see someone else talking about what i’ve been telling clients. Even the personal observation exercise — my version that I give to executives is to observe what you say for a week and see how many promises you make and how many of them you don’t keep. “Just observe”, I say, and when they do, they come back and tell me they can’t believe how many promises they don’t keep. I do this because i want them to start practicing keeping their word, and they won’t make the effort if they don’t face up to the fact that they don’t now do it. If they can’t be counted on, can they be trusted? Can they have “followers”? Can they expect the people around them to be true to their word?

    • Excellent approach, Miles! I’d guess that the first step is seeing if they keep the promise to keep track of the promises they’re keeping. 🙂

  12. Joshco0752 says:

    This has been one of my mantra’s for years. If you look at Charles Green and his trust equation you’ll see one of the four factors is reliability. Otherwise known as doing what you say you’re going to do.

    Dan Sullivan talks about being referable which is what DWYSYWD is all about. If you show up on time, say please and thank you and do what you say you will do, you put yourself way above 99% of the world. This makes it easy to for others to want to do business with you.

  13. #gameon.

    I fail forward with this every single day and in every single relationship. Despite an experience (years ago) that set me straight; save the experience – the punch line from a leader I really respected:

    “Mike, all the good intentions in the world mean nothing unless followed through with.”

    Bam – right between the eyes. I licked my wounds for months afterward. And I even changed my ways! For a small period of time…

    Great and timely post Steve!

    I’ve read your books – even used them as catalyst for change in various organizations I spent time with. You bring the thunder – always!

    Thank you for that! Have a smashing weekend.


    • Yeah…I’ve learned some hard lessons of my own over the years as a result of not doing some very simple things that seemed trivial to me, but were anything but.


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