I’ve been engaged with an aspiring leader for a couple of months, providing coaching about effective leadership in three contexts: self, leading others, and leading teams. I love these coaching engagements with leaders because I learn as much as I guide!

When coaching, I am challenged to take proven best practices and present them in ways that are relevant to the leader’s reality. I may think my coaching is brilliant, but if the leader isn’t behaving differently after my coaching, I’m not doing any earthly good.

As an executive coach, I can only be effective if my suggestions (what I call my “poking and prodding behind the scenes”) are embraced by the leader during their influencing moments with others. If the leader I’m coaching influences more effectively over time, generating better performance AND better relationships with every direct report, then I’m doing my job well.

A Question of Integrity

As is often the case in my coaching conversations, our discussion centered upon integrity. I define integrity as “doing what you say you will do.” A person maintains their integrity when they make commitments intentionally, fully aware of what they are promising to deliver (quality level, within budget, by “X” date, etc.).

Proactive communication maintains your integrity. If you learn you might miss a deadline, communicate that possibility as soon as you know. Inform everyone who will be impacted by that missed deadline.

Your integrity lies in YOUR hands. It is built up and maintained (or torn down and eroded) based upon your promises made and your promises kept, day in and day out.

The Scenario

“When people I work with don’t deliver what they said they’d deliver, I’m left up a creek without a paddle,” my client stated. As I learned more about this particular situation, it was obvious that a key player was covering two people’s jobs. She was overwhelmed with too many tasks, and her commitments were falling through the cracks. This player meant well but her missed targets were causing 1) havoc with other’s commitments, and 2) reduced trust in anything she promised.

My client indicated that he’d mentioned the missed commitments to her before. Her attitude was, “I’m doing the best that I can.” He said she seemed resigned to missing promises due to her “unfair” workload. He knows she doesn’t intend to cause these issues but the problems continue to occur.

I described the impact of this woman’s behavior by stating, “Integrity is eroded by even ONE commitment dropped, and is maintained or enhanced by ALL commitments being kept.

I certainly understand the volume of work this woman is trying to manage, AND, promises are promises. I’d rather the overwhelmed player be bold with saying, “OK, I can do this new task. Which of these other six I’m doing shall I set aside so I can do this new one?” If s/he says, “Sure, I can do that,” a promise has been made. Once you make a commitment, dedicate your head, heart, and hands to ensure that commitment is honored.

Even one missed commitment compromises one’s integrity. You cannot take responsibility for others’ behavior – but you can certainly be fully present to proactively manage your promises.

What is your experience with integrity issues or “stars” in the workplace? Join in the conversation in the comments section below.

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S. Chris Edmonds

S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of The Culture Engine and six other books.
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Reader Interactions


  1. AvatarTim Milburn (@timage) says

    I like to tell my students that integrity is not a personality trait. It’s not a matter of being better at it than others or lacking the proper skills to maintain it. It’s a choice. Great post. Thanks for always providing great insights for strong leadership.

  2. AvatarThabo Hermanus says

    Chris, thanks for this. Integrity is a big deal to me. I like your definition as it is aligned to mine. My post that will go up later (still in editing) is on the integrity value, given the choice of actions by the football club I am a big fan of (soccer). Whether it is your super star or not who is dropping the ball, you need to have that conversation that looks to restore value and take the necessary action or part ways. When integrity deteriorates, trust goes out the window. When that happens, why would anyone want to deal with you?

    • Chris EdmondsChris Edmonds says

      Thanks for your thoughts, Thabo! You’re right on it – without integrity, trust erodes immediately. Tolerating a lack of integrity brings huge costs. If a player can’t align, the leader must “set them free.”