A broken promise is a powerful thing.
I am writing to you the weekend of Prom—specifically, Pennsbury Prom, known by many as “The Best Prom in America.”
Over the years, Prom has grown into a significant community event, with volunteers of all ages working together for nearly 12 months, putting in thousands of hours in collective preparation. Prom has drawn some big-time performers over the years, including John Mayer, Maroon 5 and Metro Station.
This year’s big act is Questlove, a Philadelphia local and leader of the Tonight Show house band. Exciting stuff for the Pennsbury community—but it almost didn’t happen. As of Thursday, Questlove had apparently canceled the performance, just 48 hours ahead of Prom.
You can imagine the uproar that ensued. Students immediately took to Twitter and Facebook to cajole, complain and denounce the artist’s failure to live up to his commitment. The story was quickly covered by local media. It literally became the talk of the town.
They say any publicity is good publicity, but this is not the kind of attention you want to attract.
The truth is, there is little that will more rapidly rouse the ire and mistrust of your organization (and customers and business partners) than a promise broken. When you don’t stand by your commitments, you run the risk of a damaged reputation and sullied brand.
Once people begin to perceive you as unreliable, they may also label you as inauthentic and untrustworthy. They might stop taking you at your word. They may grow reluctant to enter into agreements with you. They may begin to guard important information, reflecting the serious breakdown in trust.
Under these conditions, it can be awfully difficult to lead.
Here are three ways to protect your reputation from tarnish.
- Be careful what you promise. Only offer or commit to actions that you are confident you can deliver and over which you have full control.
- Be upfront about it. If changing circumstances absolutely mandate a change in plans, don’t wait for word to slip out. Provide context. Offer a valid explanation. If you can provide a legitimate rationale, people are more likely to forgive.
- If you can’t deliver, take the heat. Apologize for the miss. Don’t shy away from blame or point the finger at anyone else. A good leader is accountable for her actions. Anything less will erode trust and credibility. Once that’s gone, it’s gone.
The social media campaign apparently got Questlove’s attention. He made it to Prom, reconnected with his fans, and put on a terrific show. And that’s a very good thing. If he hadn’t lived up to his word, the damage to his reputation may well have been irreparable.