The Power of Your Word

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?