“Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”
― Albert Einstein
Today was one of those days when most of my meetings needed to be rescheduled. We’ve all rescheduled meetings, so it may seem like a relatively minor matter, but this simple act can and often does have larger consequences–to others and ourselves.
When we say, “I need to reschedule,” we not only disrupt one other person’s day, but also those people (clients or coworkers) who might otherwise have filled that calendar space.
We also cost ourselves. When we have proven unreliable–and, yes, postponing a meeting is a sign, however small, of unreliability–we are seen not only as less trustworthy, but as less whole. Our wholeness, or integrity, springs a leak.
According to Werner Erhart, Michael Jensen, and Steve Zaffron, “integrity for a person is a matter of that person’s word, nothing more and nothing less.” For Erhart and Jensen, a person’s word extends beyond just what is said. It consists of the following six elements:
- What you said: Whatever you have said you will do or will not do and in the case of do, doing it on time.
- What you know: Whatever you know to do or know not to do and in the case of do, doing it as you know it is meant to be done and doing it on time, unless you have explicitly said to the contrary.
- What is expected: Whatever you are expected to do or not do (even when not explicitly expressed), and in the case of do, doing it on time, unless you have explicitly said to the contrary.
- What you say is so: Whenever you have given your word to others as to the existence of some thing or some state of the world, your word includes being willing to be held accountable that the others would find your evidence for what you have asserted.
- What you say you stand for: What you stand for, whether expressed in the form of a declaration made to one or more people, or even to yourself, as well as what you hold yourself out to others as standing for (formally declared or not), is a part of your word.
- Moral, ethical, and legal standards: The social moral standards, the group ethical standards and the governmental legal standards of right and wrong, good and bad behavior, in the society, groups and state in which one enjoys the benefits of membership are also part of one’s word unless a) one has explicitly and publicly expressed an intention to not keep one or more of these standards, and b) one is willing to bear the cost of refusing to conform to these standards.
When we violate our “word” in any of these six ways, we not are seen as less trustworthy and having slightly less integrity, but we’re also less productive–according to Erhart, Jensen, and Zaffron. They believe the link between productivity and integrity is not fully appreciated.
As a leader, there are a lot of reasons why you should appreciate integrity–yours and your organization’s. Work on keeping your word. Don’t reschedule meetings unless you really, truly have no other option.