When broken commitments compromise trust

broken-commitment1If you’re in leadership, there is no avoiding the quagmire that results from broken commitments. I’ll get the easy part of this discussion out of the way first. As a leader, you must view every commitment you make as a sacred contract to perform and deliver. If you promise to return a call before the end of the day – do it. If you commit to a meeting – be there on time and be prepared. If you promise to complete a project – get it done. Every broken commitment chips away at the level of trust others have in you. If you don’t earn and maintain the trust of those you lead – you cannot effectively be their leader. It’s that simple.

The more difficult aspect of leadership is the ability to hold others accountable for the tasks, responsibilities and commitments they make. Quite frankly, holding others accountable is much of what leadership is all about. It’s when leaders fail to hold others accountable that compromise and trust issues surface. The longer the leader allows these issues to continue, the more they chip away at trust – for both the offender and the leader. Yes, a leader can lose the trust of employees by allowing others to fail to deliver on even the most basic of commitments.

Here are some simple strategies to cure or prevent trust issues from occurring in the first place:

  • Yes, we love those self-starters: As a leader, you cannot expect everyone to possess the “self-starter gene.” Many people simply need or benefit from leadership environments that help them keep on task. Businesses with high accountability factors are high performers. High trust factors keep the culture pure. The lower the accountability factor, the more drag, drama, inconsistencies, missed opportunities and trust issues there are.
  • Systems are the foundation of accountability: Accountability creates urgency – and results. Accountability spreads “get it done” thinking throughout a business. The purpose of systems is to create predictable results by eliminating variables. When leaders attempt to be the “accountability system” rather than building systems, they invite frustration and burnout. Acid test: if the performance of your company demands your presence, you are the accountability system. It’s time to step back and assess your approach to leadership.
  • Leadership blockages and emotions: If you have issues holding others accountable for their responsibilities and commitments, if you find such conversations unsettling, I urge you to engage the services of a leadership coach. Working through tough conversations comes with the title of leader. Avoiding such conversations, or attempting to candy-coat your way through tough conversations, will cause you to lose the trust of those you lead. (I discuss this in detail in Part One of my No-Compromise Leadership book.)
  • Help others restore trust: Would you rather create a list of consequences for breaking commitments, or help others to learn how to be accountable? Procrastination, time management and commitments made with the best intentions exist in every business. Attempting to penalize offenders into submission is a long and dark road. Reach out your hand and become an accountability mentor. Invest the time and resources to help people reach their full potential. Only then, if they truly cannot meet the expectations of their position, help them understand that seeking another opportunity is best for all.

Pass this email on to your business colleagues, managers and friends.

Neil Ducoff, Strategies founder & CEO and author of No-Compromise Leadership


1 Response to “When broken commitments compromise trust”

  1. 1 Kristin Abele
    October 5, 2009 at 12:37 pm


    Congratulations! This post has been selected to be part of the Carnival of Trust, hosted this month by Scot Herrick.

    The Carnival of Trust is held monthly and brings to light the best blog posts touching on the subject of trust in business, politics and society. We think your insight on establishing leadership and maintaining strong professional relationships are spot-on. Strong writing like yours help make for a fantastic Carnival.

    Kristin Abele

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