While on my way to North Carolina this past week, I discovered a fascinating article in Southwest Airlines’ Spirit Magazine, entitled “The Everyday Action Hero”. It tells the story of 28-year-old Alex Sheen, founder of Because I Said it Would, a nonprofit dedicated to “bettering humanity through the power of a promise.” Inspired by his recently passed father, a habitual promise keeper, Sheen came up with a brilliant 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 play, the task was simple: write a promise on a card, give it to another person, then get the card back after the promise is fulfilled. These promises could be anything, from “I will clean the garage” to “I will donate blood” to “I will not hit the snooze button this week.” To his surprise, Sheen’s idea has really taken off. He has now sent promise cards to 82 different countries and to all 50 states in the U.S. 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.
What a brilliant idea, on so many levels! In essence, Sheen’s promise cards are 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 accomplish one more important thing; they build trust. Think about it. When you give one of these cards to someone in your social circle, you’re asking them to help you step into your best, most energetic, most uncluttered, socially responsible life. You’re trusting them to hold this space for you. And the trust works both ways. When you at last finish your task and get yet your card back, you’ve sent a message to your ally that you’re a promise keeper. You’re trustworthy. You do what you say you’re going to do.
Trust is such a slippery entity; it’s so hard to build and so easy to lose. When it comes to teams, leaders must absolutely demonstrate trustworthiness – as often as possible. They must walk the talk. Some other trust qualities of great team leaders include being: great listeners, self-aware, transparent with their feelings, confident and humble, empathetic, and true to who they are.
What promises can you make to yourself this week and then share with your team? Each promise, made and kept, is like a deposit into the Bank of Goodwill. As time goes by, the account grows and grows, so that when, at last, you need your teammates to mobilize and serve, they’re ready and willing to join in. You don’t even need a “Because I said I would” card. Just start making some promises to your team – and dedicate yourself to keeping them. It’s that simple, and that powerful.