I sat at my desk this morning and reflected on my week. Enjoyable encounters, memorable exchanges. New contacts and friends made, some old acquaintances reconnected. I wrinkled my nose. One thing was common through out. As I parted company with each one at the end of our encounter, we both said, see you soon, I’ll call you, let’s get together for coffee and so on. I wondered how much of this we all did really truly mean. I reflected further and recalled a particular encounter. It was with a one time good friend of mine who with the passage of time has become more of an acquaintance.
Sadly and in truth, friendships can also be for seasons. Anyway, following the superficial ritual of greeting that sometimes happens in networking situations, she said to me “Yetunde, we must catch up, you’re always elusive”. My response was “actions speak louder than words” to which she hastily reached into her handbag, got out her phone and said “okay, let’s get our calendars out”. Now, because I was running late for another appointment, I said to her: “text me the dates you can do and I’ll reply tonight” Did I get the text? No. Nor did I text her to remind her to send me her dates. In fact, I was secretly pleased. What on earth would we talk about if we did meet?
What if instead of the superficial nonsense, we had both been honest or acted in line with our real intentions and not suggested a follow up meeting? What did I have to lose? What did she have to lose? What did I have to gain? What did she have to gain? Face?
And then of course my mind turns to the world of work. How many times do leaders at all levels agree to meet up, or follow up on agreements with colleagues, direct reports or even bosses, only to leave them hanging? Sometimes not even following up with a cancellation request or indeed a negotiated alternative to what was agreed. How about the loyal direct report, relying on his boss to make that call to HR or in turn, to their own boss to support and advocate the promotion or the pay rise so enthusiastically promised. And then of course, reluctant to admit the speed at which he/she backed down at the slightest challenge, the boss returns hurriedly to the direct report to say “I wanted to keep my promise, honestly, I did, but HR wouldn’t let me” or “ I wanted to keep my promise, honestly I did, but my boss overruled me”.
Finally, there are those agreements and promises that we make to our loved ones and even to ourselves – promises of down time or special days out with children and significant others – only to break them with a wry smile or an elaborate explanation of the emergence of the unexpected and important event which now demands attention.
With each broken promise or agreement regardless of context, we say by our actions to those with whom we made the agreement that they do not matter. We tell them my “face” matters more than you; my own needs are greater than yours; my word means nothing. The fact too is that we send the same message to ourselves. When we break our own agreements with ourselves – those agreements that prioritise our own needs and wants, we say in those circumstances too, that we indeed matter less. We matter not.
My point is this: There are times when we must reprioritise our agendas. There are times when we are indeed overruled in our decisions by our bosses and left to painfully undo those well-intended promises made. There are even times when we must rearrange or renegotiate a carefully planned day out with our loved ones because of an emergency that has genuinely and unexpectedly cropped up.
What we must however diligently, regularly and carefully do is examine the motive and intention behind each of our actions before opening our mouths and committing to them.
This is because it is through careful examination that our intentions and motives are made clear. When they are made clear, this may in turn result in a different action being taken – an action that indeed preserves the integrity of our relationship with ourselves and others; an action that preserves the integrity of our leadership.