Some time back, I shared the story of Alex Sheen. Founder of Because I Said it Would, a nonprofit dedicated to “bettering humanity through the power of a promise,” Sheen is one of the world’s keenest devotees of Promise Keeping. Inspired by his recently passed father, a habitual promise keeper, Sheen came up with a unique idea; during his dad’s funeral, Alex distributed a set of black-and-white business cards to all attendees, printed with the words “Because I said I would” in the lower right-hand corner. For those who chose to participate, the task was simple: write a promise on a card, give it to another person, then receive the card back (someday) after the promise is fulfilled. These promises could be anything, from “I will clean the garage” to “I will donate blood” to “I will quit smoking.” To Sheen’s surprise, his idea has taken off in epic manner. He has now distributed over 3.15 million promise cards to over 153 different countries, by request only. Users on their Facebook Page have vowed to mail a long overdue letter, stand by a relative in a time of crisis, and even to stop cutting themselves.
There are (at least) 5 ways to use promise cards:
1) The Promise: Write your promise on a card and give it to the person who you’re making a promise to. Fulfill your promise and get your card back; keep it as a reminder that you’re a person of your word.
2) The Trade: You and another person write promises on separate cards. You then trade the cards, stay in touch with the other person, and receive your card back once you’ve informed the other person that you’ve fulfilled your promise.
3) The Post: Write your promise on the card, snap a picture of it, and post it through social media to make yourself accountable to the cloud.
4) The Goodbye: Write your promise on the card. Leave the card with a loved one who has passed (at a memorial site, altar, etc.). Fulfill your promise as a memorial to them.
5) The Calendar: Write a different promise or goal on 52 different cards. Each week, select one card at random and fulfill the promise. Share the experience in a blog, social media or a personal journal.
What a brilliant concept, huh? In essence, Sheen’s promise cards serve as built-in accountability and anti-procrastination devices. When you fill out a card, you’re basically saying, “I will no longer put off this nefarious task. And to boot, I’m going to empower someone else to be my ally in making sure I do what I say I’m going to do.
Tangentially, the promise cards play one more important role; they build trust. Think about it. When you give a promise card to someone in your social circle, you’re asking them to help you be better. You’re trusting them to hold this space for you. And the trust works both ways. When you fulfill your promise, you’re sending a message to your ally (or allies) that you’re a promise keeper. You’re trustworthy. You do what you set out to do.
Trust is slippery; it’s hard to build but so easy to lose. In the workplace, leaders must constantly and repeatedly demonstrate their trustworthiness. They must walk the talk and let others see it.
What promises can you make to yourself this week and share with your team? Each promise, made and fulfilled, is a deposit into the Bank of Goodwill. As the account grows over time, you’ll have trust in place when you need it most: in times of crisis and change, when you need your teammates to get behind you.
Great leaders don’t even need “Because I said I would” cards. They just make promises to their team – and dedicate themselves to keeping them. It’s that simple, and that powerful.
[For more about Because I Said I Would (and to get your promise cards), click here.]