A concept I don’t think gets talked about too much as it relates to a person’s career growth is integrity. Integrity sometimes sounds stiff and too conceptual but there are aspects to it that are so critical to your success that it bears pointing out – repeatedly.

In the world of work (and it doesn’t matter if we’re talking business or non profit) the primary commodity we trade off of daily is trust. If you are unable or unwilling to trust the other person to do what they say they will do, then how can you work with them? This is very basic in work and in life. If you make a commitment and then don’t pull through with it and simply shrug it off, you are shrugging off your ability to advance in your career and in the minds of those around you. You may think you have some truly valid reasons for missing it, you may even think it’s not that important. That might be true to some extent however the trust given to someone is the basic building block for the foundation of all of our relationships (personal or business). We have to know we can trust someone to be reliable, to have our best interest in mind and to behave honestly. It doesn’t really matter if it’s a big or small goof up. You just dented your reputation. It is better to be upfront if you know a situation is going to not “work out” and be honest in dealing with the goof up prior to the impact, this act of integrity can usually minimize the dent.

In our relationships at work, we are all allowed a margin of error for when circumstances impact our commitments in ways we could never predict. When we have too many uncontrolled situations and therefore too many missed commitments our credibility eventually diminishes to nothing. Those working around you expect you to cover your bases and manage your environment to ensure what you say you will do gets done. It doesn’t matter if it is showing up on time to a meeting or delivering a report on a certain day. The expectation is that you are intelligent and insightful enough to make commitments based on your assessment of your environment and likely impacts. Simply saying that you got caught in traffic during rush hour will only work a couple of times. Others will then expect you to adjust your departure time to allow for those conditions or come up with other options.

You can be endowed with trust from others almost instantly when you get acquainted. It can take only one act to completely destroy trust. Rebuilding trust after it is gone takes many consistent acts to gain back slowly. Sometimes trust is never fully restored. Granted, the magnitude of the act will often dictate if it completely destroys it or if it chips away at the foundation. Even if your missed commitment has little impact, if you do that sort of thing enough times you will destroy the trust you were given. I think the phrase “death by a thousand small cuts” describes this. The thinking then moves to not wanting to increase your responsibilities because you can’t handle the small stuff. You have to take your assignment seriously. If you can’t increase your responsibilities you won’t grow your career. It’s that simple.

I have seen people make commitments and swear to take action on things knowing fully that those acts will never happen. If you are this kind of person, you probably enjoy the talk more than the action. Don’t let that happen because you will soon be labeled a “blow hard”. You have no credibility because you are all talk and no action. At the end of your career, you will be measured by your results not by all the things you “said” you would do. As I sit here and write, I can think of several people I know that fall into this category. As nice as they are, I cringe at the idea of really being put in a position of working with them because I know that at any moment, they won’t pull through. That usually means I am left picking up their work or being impacted negatively in some way.

I have also noticed that in some of the more creative areas of work that some people develop an attitude that you can’t rush art. You can’t put a timeline on the creative process. I disagree. As long as your work has a recipient and you aren’t simply creating something for the pure joy of it, people do have an expectation that you will deliver your work in a reasonable timeframe. Once you start moving beyond that timeframe, the trust goes away accordingly. There is no escape from the profound realities of how trust is built or crushed.

If your career seems to be stalled out you may want to do some self examination. Start with understanding if you are as good as your word. If you have had any history of missing deadlines, showing up late or saying things in the excitement of the moment (and later not following up), then you need to consider changing your behavior. When you are as good as or better than your word, you will be sought out and great things will happen. Integrity can be summed up as doing what you say you will do. It is honesty, accountability and commitment to doing what is right even when no one is looking.

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