Under promise, over deliver

Two weeks ago, when I announced to Facebook friends the launch of my coaching business, I promised to deliver bi-weekly blog posts in summer….simple reflections on work, life, family, and opening to the life you’d love to lead. Secretly, though, I intended to write weekly. Shhhh….don’t tell. I have long held to Tom Peters’ adage “under promise and over deliver,” and so I deliberately set a target I thought I could exceed.


It’s summer, though, and there have been s’mores to be made, pools to dive in to, and fireflies to watch. I am delivering on my blog promise today–still a worthy goal–but no longer exceeding it.

Under promise, over deliver is a simple, straight-forward pathway to success if you’re looking for results. Tell people they’ll hear back from you in two days on a question, then surprise them with a call after just one. (This is particularly effective with parents of college students, in my experience, for whom any wait is agonizing.) Tell a colleague you’ll have a helpful contact for her, then give her the names of three. And always, always, always provide a report, a product, or a paper ahead of deadline.

If I’m honest with you–and I will try to be nothing but–I have used this formula for success in work far more than I have in other areas of life. At times, I have been a living, breathing example of over promising and under delivering in parenting. In my desire to see my children happy, I can set unrealistic expectations. Or perhaps the potential consequences of over promising and under delivering at work feel more dire, so promises to the kids get subsumed by a supposedly higher-stakes game.

In this new arrangement between my work and the rest of my life, I want to experiment with what it means to under promise and over deliver to my family, my friends, and even–or especially–myself. When I agree to show up and watch a favorite show with my nearly-teenage daughter, I will try to be there early, popcorn popped, with my phone turned off and far, far away (still working on this last part!). When I agree to pretend with my always-active son that we are on the German World Cup team, preparing to trounce Brazil, I will try to have my sneakers laced before he can find his cleats and join me outside. When I say to a friend, “Really, I’ll call,” I will, and I’ll set aside other distractions while I listen to news of her day. When I say to my body, “Today I will move you and feed you well and give you rest and love,” I owe all this and more to myself.

I’ve been on all sides of this equation–disappointed by broken promises, delighted in ones kept, and over-the-moon joyful at promises exceeded. Whether on the giving or the receiving end, our promises and how we deliver on them build perceptions of what we value, who we prioritize, and how we plan to live.

What one promise to yourself can you make–and keep–today? Who or what in your life deserves a new promise and heartfelt effort to over deliver? Let me know what you try and discover. I’ll listen–I promise.

© 2014 Jennifer L. Sanborn. All Rights Reserved.




5 thoughts on “Under promise, over deliver

  1. What an excellent first, and inspiring post. I’ll be black for the next one, I promise, and I will share this lovely read for any FB friends who might need some gentle words of inspiration. In the meantime, how exciting to be your first commenter!

  2. Thanks for sharing your Spirit-endorsed knowledge. I remember at the 50th celebration when your biggest (?) problem was having all your songs come out to the meter of “Immortal, Invisible”- problems ‘good girls’ face I formulated. I pray for strength and peace in your battle. The parts of the Enfield community I know you have touched love you and are praying for you. I will tell them of the fund-me site.

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