Leaders keep their promises to promote interpersonal accountability

Our promises create our lives. Our promises give life to our purposes and goals. Our promises move us into action. . . . Life works to the degree we keep our promises. —Dave Ellis (Photo: Dennis Sparks)

Consistency between word and deed is how people judge someone to be honest.

—James Kouzes & Barry Posner

Imagine a school in which everyone spoke with candor and respect. Agendas were not hidden. Important conversations were conducted in meeting rooms rather than in parking lots and work was completed on time according to the agreed upon specifications.

In schools with high levels of integrity and trust teachers feel responsible to one another for the actions they take to steadily improve their work. In team meetings and other learning and decision-making settings teachers are candid about their perceptions and beliefs without fear of judgment or retribution. They make and keep promises to one another about the actions they will take to improve the learning of all their students. They also make and keep promises about the ways they will support one another in improving their teaching.

Leaders change themselves first

For many educators, such a work setting would be beyond imagination. But I contend that cultures founded on such integrity are attainable when leaders recognize that change begins within themselves and commit themselves to cultivating within the school community the habits described above. In such schools interpersonal accountability replaces mandates and high-stakes testing as the primary motivating force in the continuous improvement of teaching and learning.

Leaders lead in the creation of such a culture through their own integrity and accountability. They keep the promises they make and expect others to do likewise. And they initiate the creation of such cultures by:

matching their words with their deeds, a hallmark of leaders’ integrity and an essential ingredient in schools with high levels of trust and interpersonal accountability. One way teachers and others in the school community determine their leaders’ integrity is by assessing the congruence between leaders’ expressed values and their actions. Leaders perceived to have high integrity spend their time on the things they say are important, things such as relationship building and instructional improvement.

keeping their promises, large and small.  Such leaders do what they say they will do through a task-management system that enables them to keep track of and follow through on the specific things that they say they will do no matter whether the promise is made in a faculty meeting or during a casual hallway conversation.

having “calendar integrity.” Meetings conducted by these leaders begin and end at the appointed times. These leaders also show up on time at meetings and events led by others in which they have agreed to participate, and they deliver work products at the agreed upon time and at the level of quality expected.

The absence of any or all of these qualities may signal an integrity problem that is likely to reverberate throughout the school community as others take their cues from the leader’s behavior. And the higher placed the leader within the organization, the farther the reverberation will be felt.

Doing these things, of course, is much harder than writing about them. The process begins with an honest self-assessment and continues with the cultivation of new habits through sustained attention and practice.

Leading for Results “Six-Word Leadership Tool”:

Leaders with integrity keep their promises.

Strengthen your leadership practice by . . .

• making only those promises you intend to keep and keeping all the promises you make.

• developing a “six-word leadership tool” to summarize your learning or to express an action you will take as a result of this essay. Please add your tool to the comment section of this blog and share it with one or more colleagues “back home.”

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