Integrity in communication means honoring your words. Honoring your words means you either
1. Keep your word: keep your commitments, your promises, stick to the delivery dates of reports, the completion dates of assignments you agreed to (and not speaking up is agreeing, passive aggressive behavior is not acceptable!), or
2. Communicate clearly and effectively as soon as you know you will not be able to keep your word and fully accept the consequences: clean up any messes you make AND learn from the experience so that in the future your commitments will have more value, the currency that is your word and reputation will not be debased.
Lessons learned can include better organization and time and energy management skills, as well as more interim deadlines and accountability checkpoints to keep you on track. It also can include learning to make commitments and promises more sparingly and to ascertain the level of importance of the task you are being assigned as well as your manager’s full expectations (see footnote).
It is much easier to promise performance without having to actually deliver it.
If I let a deadline slip without proper performance or consequences or accountability, I inadvertently send the message that I do not hold others accountable, that I do not hold them to their word. That talk will substitute just fine for performance. A crack in the foundation of integrity, commitment, and clarity of communication has occurred which, if left unaddressed and allowed to expand, will weaken the organization and undermine its effectiveness and ability to make meaningful commitments and deliver timely performance.
One of the hallmarks of a dysfunctional organization is bosses who waste their time tracking down a direct report to find out why a commitment was not kept. It is bad enough to not keep a performance promise. It is even worse to not proactively give a heads up along with a new, realistic deadline. It may not be fun to go in and ask for a time extension but if you do so infrequently and only after having made meaningful, significant effort to make the original deadline, your credibility will be maintained and your reputation enhanced by your proactivity.
Communicating with integrity requires that our words have meaning, that our commitments are dependable, that our promises are solid, that we are fully and completely reliable. The bad news is that too many people make too many casual commitments and perfunctory promises that they don’t honor. Indeed, they debase their word (and thus themselves) so frequently they no longer even notice. The good news is that people and organizations who follow through, who keep their promises, who honor their word, stand out like shining beacons.
“Honoring your words” simply means doing what you said you would do, by the time you said you would do it.
Learn to keep track of ALL your commitments. Write them ALL down. You will learn to make promises less easily, the quality of your commitments will rise, and with them your reputation and credibility.
“No sooner said than done——so acts your man of worth.” – Quintus Ennius (239-169 BC), considered the father of Roman poetry
“I believe life is constantly testing us for our level of commitment, and life’s greatest rewards are reserved for those who demonstrate a never-ending commitment to act until they achieve. This level of resolve can move mountains, but it must be constant and consistent.” – Anthony Robbins
“Losers make promises they often break. Winners make commitments they always keep.” – Denis Waitley
Footnote: While most supervisors greatly value the time of their direct reports and have an idea of the current work load and the impact of a new assignment, that is not always the case. While I do expect my direct reports to deliver surge performance (such as late nights) when the situation requires, it is my responsibility as a leader to ask for such effort only when it is truly necessary and to not make a regular practice of it. Usually when a supervisor and a direct report have different ideas of time requirements it is because they are envisioning different levels of results or performance. Often a “back of the envelope, drive by” report will suit my needs just fine, particularly when I’m in the very preliminary stages of an idea or project. Frequently, I do not want or need a full-blown, boardroom presentation quality response.