The Power of Your Word

by  Jane Perdue  |  Leadership Development

Barry wasn’t happy that his boss put him through the 360 evaluation process. He was even unhappier after receiving the feedback. In fact, he was shocked, angry and disbelieving. There was no way he was unethical, thoughtless or lacking in credibility and integrity.

In following the trail of bread crumbs to the root cause of his issues, Barry was amazed to discover it was his propensity for changing meeting schedules that had opened the door to the lack of trust, low satisfaction and poor performance that dogged his department.

“Don’t they know I’m busy and that other things come up? What’s cancelling or moving a meeting or two got to do with integrity?”

Barry wasn’t aware that his actual behavior about meetings was that he consistently cancelled and/or rescheduled them, for reasons both valid and trivial. Because he was out of touch with what he did, he missed the impact those behaviors had on how his team viewed him and how they interpreted what he did. In his team’s eyes:

  • Barry didn’t honor his commitments, so his word meant nothing
  • Because his word meant nothing, he had no integrity and couldn’t be trusted
  • And, because Barry held a high level position, acting that way must be the recipe for success

This slippery slope of illogical assumptions had eroded Barry’s reputation with his employees.  Barry’s prowess as a performer who always delivered the hard results had been trumped by his inability to be a leader who set an example for moral integrity by honoring his commitments.

Barry was fortunate that his organization viewed him as salvageable, valued him enough to provide coaching, and supported his long climb to being a leader who could balance task and relationship. To get things back on track, Barry agreed to:

  • Improve his organizational skills. Many of those rescheduled meetings were the result of poor planning and his failure to write down meeting times.
  • Think and act systemically. Barry’s style was “me-focused.” If a golfing opportunity arose, he grabbed it, thinking it was no big deal for his team to meet another day. Working to move beyond just his self-interest and consider the impacts of his actions on others was a big first step. “Successful managers all excel in the making, honoring, and remaking of commitments,” according to Donald N. Sull, HBR professor and author.
  • Connect and communicate more with his team and others. Barry slowly embraced the fact that having integrity and being trusted were intangible assets crucial to his success. Something as simple as showing up on-time for a meeting he had called was a building block for credibility, one of the foundations of trust. “Without integrity, nothing works,” writes Michael Jensen, “The Three Foundations of a Great Personal Life, Great Leadership and a Great Company: Integrity, Authenticity, and Committed to Something Bigger than Oneself.”

What else do you think Barry should do?

What’s Next? Please leave a comment below to join the conversation…

About The Author

Articles By jane-perdue
Jane is a leadership futurist and well-mannered maverick who challenges stereotypes, sacred cows, gender bias & how we think about power. She loves chocolate, TED, writing, kindness, paradox and shoes.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Page Cole  |  20 Dec 2011  |  Reply

Great article Jane! I’m reminded of Song of Solomon 2:15 that says, “Take us the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vines… a reminder that it’s the little problems, the little lapses in integrity that can eat away at our credibility… here’s a neat post I read on that verse that ties into what you were saying…

Have a blessed holiday!

Jane Perdue  |  20 Dec 2011  |  Reply

Hi, Paige! Thanks so much for your kind words and link that enrich the content!

Eugene Matthews  |  21 Dec 2011  |  Reply

Excellent article – I know some Barry’s in my life…and perhaps was one at one time :(
What Barry should consider doing in his journey to regain the trust he’s lost or character he’s damaged is to show up for his meetings early AND prepared. Begin his meetings on time and end them on time. But before even going to that level, I would strongly recommend that he assess whether a ‘meeting’ is necessary at all.
A few years ago Cyrus Farivar suggested that if meetings don’t matter – the don’t meet (

The other suggestion I would make is for Barry to get into the habit of making and keeping small promises in order to restore the trust of his employees. “I’ll get back to you on that,” becomes, “hold on, let me jot that down so I can shoot you an email as soon as I find out one way or the other.”

In business as in life, sometimes it’s the little things that count the most.

Jane Perdue  |  23 Dec 2011  |  Reply

Eugene –

Thanks for stopping by and adding to the richness of the discussion! Your point about concentrating first on some small wins to begin to restore trust and credibility is spot on. Trust is so easy to lose and so tricky to regain, so starting small is good advice.

Take care,


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