“It is true that integrity alone won’t make you a leader, but without integrity you will never be one.” – Zig Ziglar
As leaders, we make promises (and agreements) every day. Sometimes we might even make promises without realizing we are giving our word to something. Executives make promises about revenues and profits, managers make promises about when a project will be delivered, everyone makes promises about when they are going to send that email or document.
Promises are a part of life and a part of business. If you set goals for yourself, you’ve made promises to yourself. I love making BIG promises both in business and my personal life. I set lofty goals and then I look at how I can accomplish them. Sometimes I succeed in accomplishing those goals (promises) and sometimes I don’t. I hate falling short of my goals and promises, and I know I’m not the only one who feels that way. I also hate it when someone makes a promise to me and doesn’t follow through.
Have any of these happened to you?
- Your manager or colleague promised he/she was going to do something and then he/she never did
- Your manager promised you a raise and you never got one
- Your CEO said your company’s annual revenue would increase by a certain amount, the revenue target was missed, and the shortfall was never acknowledged or discussed
- A colleague told you that they would complete something that was critical to a project and they never followed through, which had an impact on all of the work you did
- Your manager or colleague didn’t show up to a meeting they agreed to be at and didn’t communicate their absence
Think about your experience when one of these things happened to you. How did it make you feel? Were you inspired to work harder or discouraged? Did it cause a drop in your output or effectiveness?
There is a saying: people don’t leave companies, they leave bad managers. This is fundamentally why this saying has so much truth.
Integrity builds trust. Personally, I’m inspired by people who have a high level of integrity. I want to work with those people. When someone steps up and goes above and beyond what I expected, it makes me want to work harder. On the flip side, there is nothing more discouraging and disempowering than someone not following through on what they said they were going to do, especially when they completely ignore it. When this happens, personally speaking, I either don’t want to work with that person or at the very least, I don’t want to work very hard on that project.
Whenever a promise (or agreement) is broken there is an impact. That impact could be as simple as wasting 15 minutes of someone’s time when you didn’t show up to a meeting. Or it could be as big as your company needing to lay off a portion of its workforce because of missed revenue targets. No matter how big the impact, the process is fundamentally the same.
Breakdowns happen. I don’t like them, I bet you don’t like them, and while we strive to prevent them, they still inevitably happen due to unforeseen circumstances or events. So, if we can’t always keep our word and follow through on our promises, how can we be great leaders?
Great leadership is not about always succeeding, always being right, or always winning. Great leaders fail over and over and over again. How we react and respond to failure, mistakes, and broken promises is really where the strength of our leadership lies. These are all opportunities to learn and grow, to expand partnership and teamwork, and to empower yourself and others.
Next time you come across a broken agreement or promise – try taking this on…
- Identify the promise/agreement, who it was made to, and by when it was supposed to be fulfilled
- Go find that person (or group of people) and have a conversation
- Acknowledge the broken promise/agreement (what was promised and by when)
- State what you think the impact was of not fulfilling the promise/agreement
- Then, ask the others what they see the impact was of the broken promise/agreement, either on themselves or the organization
- Brainstorm with the person (or group) what was missing that prevented the promise/agreement from being fulfilled and what you can put in place next time to ensure that it gets completed on time
- Finish by asking if anyone wants to say anything else or has any additional thoughts before completing the conversation
Through this simple process, you can empower yourself and those around you, even in the face of a broken promise or agreement. This will allow you to restore trust and confidence with those around you, and create workability. By acknowledging the breakdown, and where YOU can take responsibility for that shortfall, you can create an opportunity for the team to learn and grow. Was the original promise unrealistic? Did the team need more resources? Did the person who agreed to fulfill something need someone else to hold them accountable? What was ineffective? What actions could have been taken to effectively fulfill the promise/agreement?
These are all great questions and places to look in order to get your team operating at an optimal level. And this is one way you can turn the negative of a broken promise into a positive that has the potential to produce truly extraordinary results. I invite you to incorporate this practice into your daily routine, and if you already do this on a regular basis, kudos to you!
No one on this planet is perfect. We all make mistakes. Inevitably, we will all break a promise or agreement. The best leaders in the world know this. They are clear on their strengths and weaknesses. They are good at identifying others’ strengths and weaknesses. They know when and how to acknowledge those for accomplishing something, and they know when to acknowledge their own mistakes.
Integrity. Honesty. Transparency. These are all powerful values that leaders possess. Go put them to use. Leadership comes with responsibility.