Commitments, their interaction with Trust, and being Authentic

21 Oct

I recently finished up my MBA and as part of that I presented a topic at a leadership symposium. There were many great topics presented. I was amazed at the talent, variety, and passion that made itself evident on that Saturday morning. I figured that others who were not at the event might like to see what I presented as it is something I am passionate about. With that said, here is the guide I had with me at the podium.


Thank you all for coming today to hear what we, soon to be newly minted MBAs have to say. I personally wish to thank you all for committing to spending much of your Saturday with us as I am sure, if you are anything like the rest of us, there are many opportunities vying  for your precious little free time.

I wanted to talk a little about commitment, its interaction with trust, and about being authentic.


Let’s start by talking about what trust is. I don’t want to get down the road in this conversation and have us all off on different paths just because we didn’t level set up front. What I’m talking about is that property of a relationship between individuals that provides safety, confidence, and surety. Trusting in someone provides some level of predictability based on past events. It is being able to be emotionally vulnerable around someone believing they won’t take advantage of it.

I don’t know how many of you all have read Steven Covey’s book “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” but there is one part in there that really resonates with this subject. He kind of slips it in there. It’s not even one of the habits. Right in between habit 3 (Put First Things First) and habit 4 (Think Win-Win) is where he talks about the emotional bank account.

An emotional bank account is a metaphor that describes the amount of trust that’s been built up in a relationship. It’s the feeling of safeness you have with another human being. How much can you screw up and still be in good standing with an individual largely depends on the balance in this emotional bank account at the time. With each interaction with an individual you are making a deposit or withdrawal. The major factor is the size of that deposit or withdrawal.

Expound here…

Tim has brought up several times in the last seven weeks the idea that the golden rule just isn’t good enough. Doing unto other as we would have them do unto us? Seems a little self centered believing that everyone must want the same things we do. Tim brought up the platinum rule. One of the four I’s of transformational leadership, Individual Consideration. The idea that you should get to know the individual and what matters to THEM and do that for each individual you interact with. And this rule seems far more suited to my topic of the day than the golden rule. How better to build trust with others than to understand what is important to them?


So now that we’ve talked a little about trust, what it is, how it is built up or torn down let us proceed to talking about commitments. What I’m talking about here are those agreements or pledges to do something. It is as simple as that. No complicated formula for figuring out if something is or is not a commitment. Was there an agreement or not? I made several commitments over the last day.

  • Last night I said to my wife “I’ll do the dishes” and she said “ok”. Commitment.
  • My boss asked if I would check on a client issue each week for the rest of the year due to a tenuous relationship with the customer and I agreed. Commitment.
  • My two year old daughter asked me to read her one of her new books about deer and I said I would. Commitment.

Now each of these seems to be of varying importance, but the importance is not from my perspective, but from the perspective of my wife, my boss, and my daughter. The one that would cause me the most damage in terms of depleting emotional bank account reserves is reading that book about the deer that lives in the forest and eats grass and leaves. Now, I’ve kept two of those commitments and I’ll know at the end of the year if I keep all three, but understanding what each means to the individual is so important.  For instance I know that if I had another important issue come up at work, my boss would be fine with me delegating the task to an employee or working together to find a coworker to take over. The important point, and I really cannot stress this enough, is trusting enough in yourself to weigh new commitments against existing ones to determine the impact this new “thing” will have. Will you need to break any existing commitments? Will that cause irreparable harm or more damage than the new commitment will gain? Thinking back a few classes, one could say it is akin to running the numbers against several projects. What is the NPV of each? Factoring in the IRRs and hurdle rates, etc. which would be better?

Relative to the platinum rule we spoke about a few moments ago, what kinds of commitments do they value above others? Which do they hold sacred? Understanding that, to me, seems essential before entering into agreements which might seem trivial but to my wife, boss, daughter, or best friend may be emotional bank busters if broken.

I would be negligent to talk about commitments without also bringing in a short mention of commitment. I have talked mainly about individual commitments but it’s also important to talk about the trait of commitment which is best described as “persistence with a purpose.” This is how we can take on really important stuff that would otherwise decimate our other commitments.

“Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes; but no plans.” Peter F. Drucker

Being Authentic:

So this brings us to the topic of being authentic. In its simplest form, being authentic is saying what you mean and meaning what you say and believing in both. It means having your actions and words being in alignment with your values. How this ties into commitments and trust is that so often we are put in the position of being asked to agree to something, something small, something relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of things, and we know that there is far too great a probability that the commitment will be broken. “Can you be home by 6 o-clock?” Committing to doing something without the likelihood of being able to meet that new commitment as well as keep prior commitments, is not being honest to yourself or those you are making agreements with. It can go a long way to identify upfront that you cannot reasonably take on another agreement. You may not be making large deposits in those emotional bank accounts, but you won’t be making large withdrawals either.


Now am I recommending that you only make a commitment if you are 100% sure, signed in blood, in triplicate, willing to bet the farm (if you’re fortunate enough to have a farm)? Of course not. That would not be realistic. At the same time you also cannot break commitments, no matter how insignificant, left and right whenever “something better” comes along.


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