Keeping Your Word

Several months ago, a former executive at our company made a commitment to a third-party via email. It is obvious that he didn’t research the cost of his promise, nor did he get anyone else’s approval. I was not aware of the obligation until the other party brought it to our attention. When I learned that the commitment was north of six figures, I gasped.


Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/P_Wei

Several rationalizations immediately popped into my head:

  • The executive is no longer at the company.
  • He obviously didn’t count the cost.
  • He wasn’t authorized to make this commitment.
  • This project is already under water.
  • This amount is not in our budget.
  • I wasn’t even aware of the commitment.
  • Our CFO wasn’t aware of the commitment.

However, after a few moments, I remembered that our first core value at Thomas Nelson is “Honoring God.” We amplify this by saying that “We honor God in everything we do.” We then go on to describe the behaviors that express this value. The fourth item on the list is this:

We honor our commitments, even when it is difficult, expensive, or inconvenient.”

That brought everything into clear focus. This was initially motivated by Psalm 15:1,4:

LORD, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill? … He who swears to his own hurt and does not change.

Simply put, this means that our word is sacred. I don’t think it is claiming too much to say that this premise is the foundation of Western society. Without it, our society begins to fall apart.

When I was growing up a promise and a hand-shake were all you needed. Contracts were largely foreign and unnecessary. In fact, to insist on one would have been an insult. Why? Because a man’s word was his bond. No one was willing to risk their social capital or relational equity by breaking their word.

My, how times have changed.

Twice in the last month I have had people blatantly dishonor their own word. Both were under contract. Their obligations were explicit. There was no ambiguity.

This is tragic—especially for them.

Keeping your word is the essence of integrity. As Stephen Covey points out, “honesty is making your words conform to reality. Integrity is making reality conform to your words.” It is essential to leadership. Without it, you cannot be an effective leader.


  1. Integrity is required for trust. If people can’t trust your word, they won’t trust you.
  2. Trust is necessary for influence. People choose those they let influence them, and this is based largely on trust.
  3. Influence is essential for impact. You can’t make the impact you want to make unless you can influence others and shift their behavior.

Yes, keeping your word is sometimes difficult, expensive, and inconvenient. But the cost of not doing so is even more expensive. It will ultimately cost you your leadership.

Questions: Have you had a recent situation someone did not honor their word? What impact did it have on you?

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