A Promise You Cannot Make

Even though promises are important, there are some promises a leader cannot make.  Peter Block, in his book Stewardship, talks about dealing with the cynic and the danger of making promises you cannot keep, no matter how much they demand it.

“Cynics lack faith and what they seek is a promise.  In the context of an institution, cynicism expresses disbelief that management will do what it says it will do.  The cynic in each of us demands to be convinced that this time it will be different.  Cynics demand a promise as a cure to their lack of faith, and the promise they want is certainty.  They want us to reassure them that we can provide a safe and successful future.  We have to be very careful about the promise that we make, for if we do not deliver, the next round of cynicism will have been born.  As much as we wish, we cannot promise a safe future and we cannot promise that the reform we are proposing will satisfy any one person or unit.  The promise cynics look for cannot be given.  We cannot choose adventure, and then promise safety to get people to come with us.”  (Peter Block)

The bad news is that cynics are everywhere.  The good news is that many people want to take that leap of faith.  They are just looking for someone who will take that leap with them.  The message here for the leader is don’t let the cynic keep you from doing the right thing.

Peter Block suggest the following as a guide for dialogue with the cynic:

1. Acknowledge the other’s position.

2. State the choice for faith and commitment in the face of our own reservations.

3. Invite the same choice from the other person.