Your Promise is Your New Priority

[May 16, 2020]  “Read my lips; no new taxes.”  In 1988, then-presidential candidate George H.W. Bush made a simple, clear promise that he would not raise taxes on the American people if elected.  Later, he failed to live up to his promise.  His political opponents repeatedly questioned his trustworthiness, and he lost re-election.  When leaders make a promise, that becomes their new priority.

Making a promise and carrying it out is, indeed, a measure of character.  Anyone who makes a promise, gives their word they will do something, or pledges their support and yet does not live up to the deal, or lies to you, has broken a sacred trust.  Betrayal is the most undesirable quality of a leader and often the very reason so many leaders fail.  A quick reading of Dante’s Inferno is a literature classic that demonstrates the depths of betrayal in a hard-hitting fashion.

In my early days of Army life, I had a friend, Gregory, who was notorious for not returning phone calls, despite promising to do so.  This problem was a small thing but irritating.  It was also his downfall, as he regularly failed to carry out assignments he promised to do.  His boss at work fired him one day and said he was fed up with Gregory not doing what he said he would do.  Gregory made promises and did not consider them important enough to act on them.

Senior leaders are better at making and keeping promises.  The first thing we see in a senior leader is a reluctance to make a promise unless it is vitally important.  They then put all their effort in quickly bringing the commitment to a beneficial conclusion.  Quickly is the keyword here.  A promise must is given priority because everyone sees it as part of who you are.  Character for a senior leader is the grease that gets things done.

From the Bible, we learn that Moses spoke to all the Israelites during their long, arduous journey out of Egypt.  He said, “And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.”1  The Israelites had sworn they would follow the word of God.  They were being tested.

In the study of the psychology of humans, we find that the breaking of social bonds is a form of betrayal.  Betrayal is part of a series of meta-stories from our past that shines a light on what we value and what we despise; much like this story of Moses.  We don’t like broken promises.  We follow the rules of our community and friends because it is who we are, not just what we are not.

The lessons for leaders is simple.  Make a promise; make it your new priority.  Get ‘er done!


  1. Deuteronomy 8:2, English Standard Version,
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

14 thoughts on “Your Promise is Your New Priority

  1. Dennis Mathes

    Excellent article and well written too. I can only hope that junior leaders get Gen. Satterfield’s point that when you give your word, then everything you do from that point on should be fulfilling that intent. Thanks for another great article.

  2. Xavier Bordon

    Hi folks. I’m new at this blog and hope I can contribute. I enjoyed reading the comments. I’ll be recommending the leader blog to my friends.

  3. Max Foster

    I found it interesting, Gen. Satterfield, that you wrote senior leaders are better at keeping promises. I won’t question your assertion but I would not automatically make such an assumption. I find that there are certain people who are better at it than others. Those who keep their promises are those that also have their act together in other ways and are more likely to rise to senior leader positions in life and, probably, enjoy life more as a result. I don’t know why but my local psychologist suggests this is a personality type.

    1. Yusaf from Texas

      Max, you have verbalized something that I was thinking. Great article overall, but let’s not paint with such a broad brush. Senior leaders (meaning those with extensive and relevant experiences) are those who are good at doing what they say they will do because it keeps them in their positions.

    2. Randy Goodman

      Max, I think we are mixing up the idea of causality with association.

  4. Tom Bushmaster

    Deuteronomy is one of those chapters in the Bible that is most underrated and underappreciated for the reasons mentioned here. It is a chapter where Moses makes a number of comments that are taken too lightly and not thought about. I suggest a closer reading. There are a number of Biblical scholars whose works help shed light on the deeper meanings of Moses and the Israelite’s journey.

    1. Otto Z. Zuckermann

      Thanks for the suggestion. You can also find more on the Internet, just search and you shall find.

  5. Len Jakosky

    This is exactly why we should be reading and studying closely the oldest of stories from way before our history began. There is something about them that teaches us how to be better humans and better at thinking. Well done on today’s article, Gen. Satterfield. Keep up the great works.

    1. JT Patterson

      Yes, good point and why so many of us are long-term fans of this site.

    2. Newtown Manager

      I never thought of it this way, Len and – oh – thx for yr input … I’m a new reader and commentor but I can see where all of you are going with this forum. I too learn a lot from reading both the articles and the comments. 👍

  6. Wesley Brown

    Interesting premise, but very on target. This is what I’ve told my kids over and over. Maybe one day it will sink into their thick skulls.

Comments are closed.