When asked to define the qualities of a great leader descriptions often include the terms – transparent, honest, brave, approachable, determined.

I have worked with many great leaders, at all levels in organisations. I have witnessed the actions of leaders who work hard, who are passionate, who encourage, and who make a real difference. The single word that I would use to describe the common characteristic of the most successful leaders is trustworthy. When they say they will do something, they do it. And everyone knows that they will do it. This trust builds confidence and belief, it is the core of a value system which enhances the team, department, division or organisation.

A leader who says that they will do something is accepting the responsibility for delivering that outcome. They are making a promise. The trouble is that stuff then gets in the way and even the best of intentions can be overcome by events… which seem to be designed to be fantastic distractions. Often urgent, possibly exciting, sometimes both, events pose enormous challenges to focus and commitments. Attention drifts, pledges are forgotten, promises are broken.

The best leaders don’t allow that to happen. They recognise that the most visible expression of their performance as a leader is the delivery of the promise that they make. The very best leaders are careful to make promises that they can deliver – not by setting the bar at such a low level that they cannot fail but rather by considering all aspects of the delivered outcome before making the promise:

  • Ensuring everyone in the team is committed to the promised outcome
  • Concluding that the outcome is deliverable given the resources and skills available
  • Agreeing the plan and inviting the team to share responsibilities for delivery
  • Making progress visible to all, identifying blocks and discussing solutions
  • Delivering one promise at a time, proving positive progress
  • Celebrating success, creating positive memories

The successful delivery of a single promise strengthens the foundation of trust. Trust builds a positive culture and a positive culture enhances business performance. So don’t promise it, deliver it and prove it.