As kids, we're told that good people keep promises. We're taught it in school and church; we read it in books and advertisements; we even hear it in Disney movies. Somewhere along the way, Western business culture forgot the importance of keeping promises.
Nowadays, being true to your word almost seems old-fashioned. The modern corporate world has a general culture of flakiness; unreliability is not only acceptable but also a sign of seniority.
Add to that the "instant gratification" nature of our digital era and the bombardment of competing priorities, and we have ourselves a trustless society. In that sort of environment, showing that you're a person of integrity — who people can count on to do what you say you will do — is a great way to stand out from the crowd.
How I lost (and found) my way
Gaining a foothold in commercial real estate meant sacrificing significant chunks of my integrity. I had to learn the tricks of the trade and use them to outpace the competition. It meant prioritizing opportunities based on potential profits, keeping multiple competing commitments, being late to almost everything I did and treating deadlines like suggestions.
I viewed my actions as smart and efficient, but I had no clue how much this inconsistency undermined my credibility and potential success. To repair both, I decided to focus on honoring my commitments. Most commercial real estate brokers are known to overpromise and underdeliver. My new business strategy involved doing the exact opposite.
What does this look like in practice? For example, I had a guy join us after years at a traditional commercial real estate firm. During a conversation, I mentioned that I had brought back a case of a local rum from Hawaii a few months back and that I would bring him a bottle the next day. As promised, I placed the bottle on his desk the following morning. After experiencing so many empty promises throughout his career, he was stunned by this small token that showed he could trust me.
If you want to start being your word, begin by fostering a culture of keeping promises. Here are three ways to practice integrity genuinely and disruptively:
1. Be clear and realistic. Business people routinely overcommit to impress or win business. Build a new normal by simplifying your commitments — making them realistic and clear — and setting specific deadlines and goals that everyone understands.
Build a simple process for tracking and following through on your word. Record the commitments you make, setting reminders along the way. If you can’t keep your word on a specific commitment, be honest about what happened. An attainable, systematic approach to integrity is the most direct path to being the kind of leader that people trust.
2. Be accountable and coachable. Ask others to hold you accountable to your commitments. This requires you to embrace humility and recognize that others can help you keep your promises. Set goals together as a team and hold each other accountable for deadlines and expectations.
For example, I like to recognize members of my team with a "Courage to Disagree" award when they call me out for failing to follow through on my word or live up to our core values. It's especially important for me, as a leader, to cultivate an open environment where nobody is above honest feedback. The more you open yourself up to input from others, the more you can grow into a person that people trust.
3. Be open and flexible. Needs sometimes arise at inopportune times. We've all inconvenienced others — or been inconvenienced — enough times to know how this goes.
Set aside regular time to allow for out-of-the-box requests. One member of my team builds "margin" into his schedule, which is extra backup time that allows him to stay on track when unexpected disruptions occur. True integrity shows when it's least expected, so be a flexible resource who can come through in a pinch.
Reliable leaders must remember to be straightforward, accountable, and flexible. The more your people can trust you regarding the little things, the more they will trust and follow you when it comes to the big things. Trust is everything, and being your word creates that trust.
Jonathan Keyser is the founder of KEYSER, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based commercial real estate broker. He's also an author, thought leader, and guest speaker on disruptive and service-oriented business practices.