By Rick Forbus, PhD

If you have read any other writings of mine you know that I occasionally mention a pet peeve. With some reasonable amount of restraint this topic has not surfaced until now. To be quite honest, there is no more patience available within me at this point. It is maddening!
There is some variance regarding intensity when it comes to the lack of follow through, and some outcomes, or lack thereof, are less pervasive than others. No matter how or why follow through does not occur, it is still a gripe of mine. Honestly, we all have some level of lack of follow through, but lately it seems to be everywhere I look.
One category of this issue is communication. One of the guiding principles of Trove, Inc. is to answer emails and voicemails as quickly as possible. Our clients are varied and reside in several time zones. We all try to answer questions sent by email or voicemail with some prudence. Since we are very busy and are caught in coaching one-on-one sessions for hours at a time, we have to be intentional in following up on client inquiries. What is interesting is how when an email is missed or a voicemail takes a full day to return, how some people are offended by the lack of immediacy to respond.
Also, what is interesting is when a crucial email is sent to a client from our end it will sit without a response until the answer is no longer needed or pertinent. There seems to be some unstated competition going on as to who is busiest. What is also interesting is how some so-called successful business and organizational leaders really do not seem to care that the lack of follow through is so pervasive in their management “tool kit.”

Those people blessed with the most talent don’t necessarily outperform everyone else. It’s the people with follow through who excel.
Mary Kay Ash

A second category of the lack of follow through falls into general action items that emerge in a team organizational meeting. This category is less emotional for me, but still as prevalent. Of course, I realize that I’m not providing empirical research and science behind these statements, but the results are still occurring in my work as a coach and consultant. Often companies and organizations know that productivity has gone down, profits are eroding and employees are frustrated by unclear vision and results. However, when it comes to creating a culture of follow through, there are serious gaps. Though this organizational issue is less emotional and offensive, it is a very real threat to return on investment and productivity.

Follow through is a motivational and emotional issue. From my experience, following through on something has several parts. Some of the “self talk” you may go through here could feel a little like these listed.

1. I need to consider the consequences of finishing this task or not finishing this task.
2. Since every agreement begins with an agreement with myself, what price do I pay emotionally if I do not complete this?
3. Since my personal internal commitments usually affect someone else, will I pay emotionally for not finishing the task with excellence?
4. Is there a way to move away from this agreement, either with myself or with others, and completely be free and at peace with the non-commitment?

Depending on your behavioral makeup, the lack of follow through will erode something within you at a greater or lesser degree. Certain people with high achievement and aggression needs will struggle to leave something undone. Others, more passive, perhaps will just slowly wear away and become less bothered by this lack of commitment to follow through.

Possess the focus and determination to take action on your ideas that often start out as simple thoughts, and realize as they are fulfilled you are building momentum that can often transform your life into much more than you ever imagined

The Artful Skill of Agreement and Follow Through
It is amazing how relationships are affected by being too casual with agreements. Stephen Covey even defines character “as doing what you say you will do.” It used to be that one’s word was one’s bond. A handshake and good work ethic would dictate simple follow through. Leaders learn quickly that they aren’t leading if they don’t have anybody following. The team quits following as soon as they think we, as leaders, are not good for our word. Also, many leaders and managers wonder why they do not have buy-in and they find productivity at all-time lows. It is more complex than this; but the lack of follow through is a quick remedy for enthusiasm and synergy. My grandfather was a man of his word. Back years ago people thought carefully about whether they could deliver on their promises before agreeing on anything. He would simply follow through on what he said. So, that would mean that he was a man of character. According to Covey, he would also be a man of integrity. He followed through on simple promises. The converse would also be true, I assume. The lack of follow through, or not doing what you say you will do, means the lack of character and integrity. One could argue that if you have a job assignment and do not perform in a way that tasks get done with quality and timeliness, you would lack the integrity to follow through. Also, it is not about willingness but the skill of moving willingness to completion.

Price VS Cost
Some assume that the price is too high to change their schedules and intentions to follow through with integrity. When you don’t keep your agreements, you pay both external and internal costs. You lose trust, respect, and credibility with others, including your family, your friends, your work colleagues, and your clients. You create messes in your own life and in the lives of those who depend on you getting things done – whether it is showing up on time to leave for the movies, getting a project proposal and budget projections in on time or cleaning the garage at home. Sometimes talented people gather for a meeting you called, and cannot complete decisions because you are not either there or did not follow through in delegating authority to those present. Much is lost in time, energy, loyalty and money when this occurs.
After a few weeks or months or even years of just not taking your agreements and your commitments seriously, people begin to simply not trust you. They can only trust the “pattern” of repeatedly not following through. They realize that they cannot count on you. You lose authority with them. Your relationship with them deteriorates. When you think of trust as being a foundational ingredient of integrity, then it really does not matter if you break trust through not being on time, following through with a company assignment or not keeping a marriage vow; it still breaks trust. Oh, I know there are greater consequences for these different trust-breakers, but they all are born from the same source: not keeping an agreement.

Every Agreement You Make is with You
I do not know if you have ever thought about your management interactions and relationships this way or not, but it is absolutely true that every agreement you make is, at the end of the day, with yourself. Follow through, or the lack thereof, may become a defining part of who you are. If you are not trusting of your capability to keep a promise, then this will quickly be mirrored in your relationships. Even when you are making an agreement with someone else, your brain and “heart” or “conscience” hears it and aligns it as a commitment. You are making an agreement with yourself to do something, and when you do not follow through, you learn to distrust yourself. This is not a scientific finding but rather an observation from my coaching practice. The result could be the loss of self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-respect. You lose reliance in your ability to produce a result. You even begin to weaken your sense of principle. These factors can hurt one’s leadership, integrity and effectiveness. As coaches, we sometimes call these behaviors, tolerations.

o Have you begun to just tolerate your inability to be on time?
o Are you just settling that you just cannot make deadlines because of your “personality type?”
o Could it be that you have an overly inflated view of your importance and others should want to clean up your organizational messes?
o Wonder if you may be thinking that the mire of closing loops in communication, projects and even relational conflicts are beneath you?
o Are you fearful of attempting to change these tolerating behaviors so just “turning a blind eye” at them means they are going away on their own?

Your Integrity and Self-Esteem are Worth More than Winning the Lottery

We would all stop making casual agreements if we really realized that our integrity and our self-esteem are literally affected by this behavior. Just getting someone off our back is not an adequate reason to casually commit to something you are not going to follow through on. If we really understood the potential damage long-term intentional agreement-breaking causes to ourselves, we would quit selling our self-esteem for:
1. Short-lived approval
2. Speedy answers
3. Surface agreements
4. Saying things we really do not believe
5. Promising things we know we cannot do
6. Judging others’ actions swiftly without thinking carefully through all of the consequences
7. Embellishing results or outcomes knowing they are not true or accurate

Why do these things affect our relationships? Every team member learns quickly what the leader believes is important. A leader’s actions day after day paint one brush stroke at a time their real “portrait” of agreement and commitment. Some would even say that each brush stroke of lack of follow through paints a “picture” of less-than-good character. It is difficult to follow someone who habitually lacks follow through, for whatever reasons they be justifying the behaviors. Trust is essential in building solid relationships on projects or in family relationships. Once you realize how important keeping your word is, you realize you have the ability to do it. It is simply a matter of realizing what you are giving up. The personal power that you get from keeping your agreements is worth a whole lot more than you, as a leader will ever give up, of time, preferential activities and the pathways to least resistance. If you want more self-esteem, self-confidence, self-respect, personal leadership power, mental clarity and energy, then assure that keeping your word and follow through are top priorities for you. Often following this discipline you will see team members’ trust, respect and work ethic begin to bloom.

A man can be as great as he wants to be. If you believe in yourself and have the courage, the determination, the dedication, the competitive drive and if you are willing to sacrifice the little things in life and pay the price for the things that are worthwhile,
it can be done.
Vince Lombardi

Many times I enjoy ending an article with a list of action steps. Instead, this time I am going to provide you with some quotes from others regarding this topic. This is a topic that is important, and, yes, a pet peeve of mine.

Do just once what others say you can’t do, and you will never pay attention to their limitations again.
James Cook

We learn by doing.


Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments.
Jim Rohn

Do we need more time? Or do we need to be more disciplined with the time we have?
Kerry Johnson

The time for action is now. It’s never too late to do something.
 Carl Sandburg

Be a great leader and work on your follow through!

Executive coach –

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