Trust is a critical element of any meaningful relationship. That’s just as true in the business world as elsewhere. If your leaders make promises they don’t keep–once–you might give them the benefit of the doubt. On the other hand, if that behavior looks like becoming a pattern, trust goes out the window. You no longer have a trust-based relationship.
Promises are easy to make, and for too many “leaders,” they’re just as easy to break in the name of business expediency. Whether it’s a promise to promote you to a more responsible, career-enriching position or something else, if your boss promises it and then doesn’t deliver, you’ll naturally start to wonder if you can believe and count on anything he or she says. That’s a shortcut to a dysfunctional work relationship that doesn’t produce good results for you or anyone else.
It isn’t necessarily illegal to make promises that aren’t kept, but it is unethical if it’s done knowingly. In other words, if your boss assures you that your job is safe, even though a layoff is coming, the situation could still end with you facing job loss. Either your boss was manipulating you to achieve a specific outcome–such as convincing you to continue putting hard work into a critical project (deliberate deception)–or he/she meant well but ultimately had less than full control over the details of the layoff (inadvertent promise-breaking).
Simon Sinek (of Start With Why) believes that “many in leadership positions talk about doing what’s right. But only the true leaders actually do it.” How many leaders do you know that “walk the talk”?
If you manage or supervise a team, do they know they can rely on your word? Even if you’re not yet in a leadership role, you can develop much stronger support and gain solid respect if others on your team are able to trust that you will do what you say you will.
Leaders who advocate one thing in their role as leader and do something contrary to that in their own actions don’t inspire confidence and can actually end up sabotaging the success of their organization. That’s not something you want to chalk up against your name and reputation as a leader. The cost is likely to end up being higher than you want to pay.
I came across a short but inspiring blog post on the subject of walking your talk, from Karin Conway (Organic Growth Coach), that includes the following:
“I hope this quote inspires you today. I think its [it’s] a good reminder to practice what you preach and live a life of integrity. We can do a lot of ‘stuff’ and never accomplish anything if we are careless in our actions….:
‘It’s not what we eat but what we digest that makes us strong; not what we gain but what we save that makes us rich; not what we read but what we remember that makes us learned; and not what we profess but what we practice that gives us integrity.’ (philosopher Francis Bacon)”
Sometimes sticking to your guns and doing what’s right as a team leader involves a personal or professional cost to you. For instance, if you’re faced with taking a stand against something senior management expects you to do that goes against your strongest sense of right, you might have to decide if it’s worth the risk to keep your promise to your team–up to and including possible loss of your own job. That could end up being a really tough call, but no one said that doing right would always be easy.