keeping pledgesElections produce interesting questions. The current presidential race is no exception and raises so many more than any before. One question concerns pledges. During the Republican primary, there were 17 candidates, and each pledged to support the final nominee. Several did not honor the pledge. Most that did not keep the pledge skipped the convention.

The question surfaces:

Should a leader always keep a pledge made?

Immediate gut reaction would be “Yes. Commitments matter.” Words and principles like trust, honesty, and integrity rise as more than meaningful words but persistent actions. Keeping a pledge, no matter the cost, can become dangerous. What would you do?

Pledges as Positioning

Pledges can be a positioning strategy. In this situation, my guess is the individuals making the pledge did not think that a certain candidate would win the nomination. Some probably also thought that this candidate would not keep the pledge if he lost, so it was a way to peg him with the pledge later on. Some form of positioned unity of all the candidates was likely in the mix, too.

In the heat of the positioning battle, being the only one not to commit to a pledge can be a losing proposition. The people who the vote will likely disqualify you based on a perceived disloyalty. Your positioning erodes, and you lose.

Signing a pledge as a strategy is not a good idea. Losing with integrity is better than winning without it.

Some may say this is just politics, but business leaders also pledge. They may pledge to a communicated strategy without really believing in it. They pledge to be customer-centered yet forget the pledge when a release is off schedule or support costs are rising too fast. They pledge to give team members authority and accountability while quietly undermining them at every turn. Business leaders can make pledges that they have no intention of keeping.

Political leaders are more visible, but business leaders are not too dissimilar.

Pledge Circumstances Change

Change happens. Keeping a pledge in the face of bad outcomes or worsening situations is not worth it. Continued bullying and derogatory comments cannot be supported. Racist comments, actions, and policies cannot be tolerated. Keeping a pledge when a hellish rolling snowball keeps getting bigger cannot be the right choice.

Even if the pledge is made with an initial hopeful strategy, circumstances may demand leaders to step up with an objective of preventing divisive and uncivil actions. Leaders need to find their soul and do the right thing. More than their own soul, leaders need to protect the soul of what is right and just.

At some point, leaders need to set the right example with their actions.

Business Leaders: Pledging Action

An added question is:

What pledges should a leader make?

More business leaders are beginning to understand their role in a larger community. More business leaders are beginning to step into the debate on social issues. Some may say this is still self-serving since their team members and customers are impacted by certain laws and political actions. I argue that certain leaders are being more community-aware. A good move.

The National Basketball Association stood up against discrimination by moving the All-Star game out of North Carolina. Another 200 business leaders have stepped up against discrimination in North Carolina. Other states considering similar discriminating actions have taken note and are pausing to reconsider.

Why the change? A more expansive mission, I hope. A greater mission is bringing business leaders to pledge their support in stopping discrimination and promoting equality. Making pledge of action that may change a discriminating situation is smart leadership.

Even in an election, business leaders area raising their voice against racism and divisiveness.

Hoping narrow thinking and inappropriate words will pass is not a strategy. Leaders need to be active in their broader community.

Making pledges hoping a bad leader will disappear is not a strategy. Leaders need to be active in promoting leaders who demonstrate empathy, collaboration, and positive strategies.

Changing Leadership Dynamics

The stats on leaders are disappointing. We seem to be stuck in a rut. Change may be underway. Some leaders are trying to make the right pledges to create a better workplace and community. Some leaders are being more transparent about their motives and actions. Some leaders are trying to align purpose and profit to make a positive difference.

More leaders need to adopt a mindset that has a positive impact.

What I have learned so far this election cycle includes:

  • We cannot make a pledge as a way to position ourselves to win a new position, knowing we cannot support the rhetoric or policies of another potential leader.
  • We must pledge ourselves to a higher standard of conduct and do so boldly and with meaningful consequence.
  • We must dedicate ourselves to determining what is not working in our leadership practices and develop new ways.
  • We must never rationalize away our principles.
  • We cannot hope for change. We must work toward positive change.
  • We must develop and activate leaders for positive impact.

Always Keep Pledges?

A key question. Leaders need to make a pledge that fits with positive principles, even if it means loss of position. Leaders need to rise to the challenge of a greater mission and lead positive change in their interconnected communities. Leaders need to consider the pledges they make within their organization and ensure alignment of words and actions.

Pledges can lock us in, so we need to be thoughtful in our strategy. Pledges can prevent divisive actions, so we need to be proactive in our strategy. Pledges can raise our sights to a greater purpose. We need to lead for positive impact.

What role do pledges play in your leadership philosophy?