I don’t care what you say, magicians are cool. Well, if they’re really good at what they do, magicians are cool. If you know anything about magic, you know that most magic is based on misdirection. (You probably also know that magicians don’t do tricks, they create illusions. A trick is… well, it’s something else.*) In any case, magicians are geniuses at taking our focus away from the thing they don’t want us to see without us even knowing it. Bad leaders can do the same thing. The difference is, once you realize it, it’s a lot easier to see what they’re really up to!
So, here’s an easy one… when people make lots of promises, it’s usually a smoke screen for hiding the truth or a carrot dangling in front of the rabbit (that would be you) to get it to perform for them. They make it seem like the focus is on you, but it most definitely is not. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve experienced this or heard this story from others.
I took a job once where I gave four conditions for taking the job. The owner quickly agreed to all four of my conditions and I began work. I felt incredibly valued! So much so, that my focus was taken off of the fact that his desperation to fill the position might be the driving force behind his seemly generous offers. Within a month, he reneged on each of the four promises he made. (Should have gotten it in writing!) Another time, I was becoming restless and my boss knew it. He began to make me all kinds of promises that sounded unrealistic yet tantalizing. Do you know why they sounded unrealistic? Because they were! None of them came true. Not one. (But he got me to take my focus off of my dissatisfaction for a little while and dream about the possibilities! And I was dumb enough to fall for it.)
Guess what? I’m not unique! This happens all the time. In some situations, it’s not individual promises like I experienced, it’s company-wide promises. “We can’t give bonuses this year, but next year, we’re going to give everyone big bonuses and you’re going to be really happy with how well we take care of you!” Yeah… probably not.
Promises are cheap. Do you know what is not cheap? Honesty. Honesty requires humility and vulnerability. These are good attributes in a leader. They mean that the leader can put their focus on the people they are leading and do what’s best for them, even if it’s painful. Being able to tell people what they want to hear when there’s no chance of seeing it come to fruition? That’s cheap and it’s something to run away from. Quickly.
If lots of promises are being made, especially when someone is trying to get you to do something or distract you from the fact that things aren’t going so well, it’s a good sign that it might be #Time2MoveOn.
* Learn all about it in the Arrested Development pilot episode where GOB explains it to his brother, Michael.