Integrity and Change

Posted Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Allen Slade

In Faster Change is Your Only Advantage, I wrote about three C’s you need to master for change:

Commitment.  Embrace the change. Look forward to change. Jump into the next challenge.

Competence. Become better at change. Grow by tackling new challenges, playing with the new system, applying the new concept or talking to the new person.

Capacity. Be able to change quickly and often. Multi-task competing changes. Be able to manage carefully planned change, but also be able to “ready, fire, aim” without detailed plans.

These C’s are still important. But there is a fourth C:

Character. Be known for your integrity and compassion.

We will look at compassion in our next post. Today’s focus is the need for integrity in the midst of change.

Your integrity as a leader should be rock solid at all times, especially during tough transitions. To be known for integrity, you should be a truth teller and a promise keeper.

Truth tellers mean what they say and say what they mean. They avoid both active deception and passive deception.

Being a truth teller does not mean that you violate confidences. Sometimes, managers are privy to information that they cannot share with their team. For example, during a reorganization, employees may ask if their jobs are secure. If layoffs are possible, do not falsely reassure employees. But you also should not jump the gun. Instead, you may have to say “I don’t have any information to share with you at this time.”

Promise keepers make strong promises and keep them. Chalmers Brothers distinguishes three kinds of promises:

Strong promises: Promises that I am absolutely committed to keeping. You can count on me.

Shallow promises: These look like a strong promise, but what I don’t say out loud is ‘unless X or Y happens.’ . . . Here, we reserve a private ‘out’ for ourselves, but we don’t let the other person know.

Criminal promises: These are promises that at the moment of making, we know we have no intention of keeping.”

A reputation for integrity requires making  strong promises and keeping them. Then, people will know you are as good as your word.

Promise keepers may find it necessary to revisit agreements when conditions change. The key is how you change the agreement. If you cannot keep a promise, you should proactively go to the other party and attempt to negotiate a new agreement that is acceptable to both of you. Then, people can rest easy in your integrity. They know you will not forget your promises or unilaterally change your commitment.

Contrast a promise keeper with people who do not make strong promises:

They may avoid strong promises by saying “Sounds good.” or “I will try to . . . .” They may keep a private “out” that excuses them from keeping a promise. Or they may make a criminal promise with no intention of keeping it.

Shallow promises, private outs or criminal promises damage your reputation. Avoid them by keeping your promises.

Bottom line: Treat people with respect by telling the truth and keeping your promises. They will follow you confidently during today’s change and the changes to come.


If you do not have the reputation you want, start building credibility today. Tell the truth when a lie would be easier. Keep a promise that hurts. Proactively renegotiate a commitment that you have the power to ignore or unilaterally change. Building your reputation takes time and repeated testing under pressure. Be consistent and patient to grow your reputation.

If you are already known for your character, protect your good name by continuing to be a truth teller and a promise keeper. Then, your character will complement your commitment, competence and capacity to change.

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