Choosing Between Painful Truth and False Hope

We all know that what’s called “people pleasing” is a bad habit. It pushes us to give up our dream for someone else’s dream, can deter us from what we’re really called to do, and causes us to settle for second best. But we rarely hear about the extensive damage that happens when leaders become people pleasers.

Over the years, I’ve seen the disappointment and damage to employees, teams, freelancers, vendors, and others when an organization’s leader promises what he can’t deliver or has no intention of delivering. In most cases, he or she doesn’t mean to hurt anyone. In fact, they’re actually trying to help – to make other people or the team feel better.

But in the long run, a painful truth is far more helpful than false hope.

For instance, I’ve met with potential clients who were absolutely thrilled with our proposal. They couldn’t wait to work with us and said things like, “Quick, go back to your office, draw up an agreement, send it over, and let’s get to work. I can’t wait.”

We did exactly that – but then never heard from them again. No phone response, no email response.


I’ve also seen leaders who promise their team equipment and resources but keep putting it off and never delivering. One friend, an experienced church media director, continued to work with a church year after year because the pastor kept promising that “next year,” he’ll launch a media ministry. But every year, it became “next year” and “next year.”

That dragged on for more than ten years, setting back the media director’s career for over a decade.

In fact, one leader is so bad about this his team has a joke that he’s incapable of saying “No” but has varying degrees of “Yes.”

Leaders – no matter how much you want to inspire and motivate your employees, team, contractors, or others – stop making promises you cannot fulfill or realistically intend to deliver.

Be a leader of your word.

No matter how painful that is now, it’s far better than the day the lie comes home.

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This article originally appeared on and is reposted here by permission.

Phil Cooke
Phil Cooke

Phil Cooke is a filmmaker, media consultant and founder of Cooke Media Group in Los Angeles, California. His latest book is Ideas on a Deadline: How to Be Creative When the Clock is Ticking. Find out more at