Integrity in the little things

Integrity is one of the big name values that people like to say they hold dear.  We all like to think that with our jobs on the line, or facing the temptation of a big score at someone else’s expense, we’d take the high road.  But how about the little things?

“I’ll be there.”

As an example, consider the meeting invitation.  The longer you’ve been around, the more meetings you get invited to.  Some people, to be polite, will accept the invite in advance regardless of their intent to attend.  In fact, some people intentionally skip meetings as a way of pushing for organizational change.  It’s hard to argue against that kind of civil disobedience, but let’s be honest here: this isn’t Rosa Parks in 1955.  Isn’t it better to decline the meeting invitation and force an awkward conversation, as opposed to accepting it and just not showing up?  Which is really more likely to change behaviors around you?

“We’ll be done in an hour.”

When I accept your meeting invitation, there’s a contract.  I’ll give you my attention for the time we agreed upon, and you won’t waste my time.  That includes keeping me past the end of the meeting.  When your meeting runs over, you’re telling everyone else there that your time is more valuable than theirs.  You know what?  It might be.  Then again, you might just be showing a lack of respect for the time of your colleagues.

“I’ll get you an answer today.”

Will you?  Or will it drop off your radar?  Maybe my question isn’t the most important one in your queue.  I respect that.  So tell me that up front so my expectations are clear.  “I’m looking at a few other issues, but if I can, I’ll get you something today.”  People say you shouldn’t use phrases like “if I can” or “I’ll try” because they make you sound weak.  You know what else makes you sound weak?  Making promises you can’t keep.

The fact is …

… most of us know people who casually disregard their word in all these areas and more.  If you’re like me, you’ve adjusted to several of your coworkers, and know how to handle these situations when they arise. You aren’t offended, and you don’t think they’re bad people.  You just know that this isn’t one of their priorities.

But by making an effort to be someone who never makes a promise they can’t keep, you invest every day into the trust accounts of those around you.  And someday, when push comes to shove, those people will know they can count on you.

This lesson is especially important for managers, who are in a position to make a great many promises, but also are in a position to have their ability to keep those promises compromised at the last moment by their own management, company mandates, or changing circumstances.  Be careful with your word, and it’ll mean something when you finally have to give it to someone.

1 comment so far ↓

#1 MadKat on 09.18.08 at 1:58 pm

Very good post. Personal character shows up not in how we treat those higher on the org chart, but those at the same level or lower.