(Editor’s note: This is Part six of a 10-part series examining the building blocks of effective L.E.A.D.E.R.S.H.I.P. This time? R = RELIABLE.)

"Ninety-nine percent of all failures come from people who have a habit of making excuses.” -- George Washington Carver

This concept is pretty simple, isn't it? We expect that Sam's mom will pick up our child from school when promised ... that our salary increase will take effect as scheduled ... that our boss will fight for our marketing budget as he said he would. We expect our leaders to have our back, to be responsive, to honor their word and generally do what they say they're going to do when they say they're going to do it. It's simple ... but when it's absent, it can be paralyzing.

How many times have you said to someone, "I'll take care of it," and somehow failed to accomplish the task you assumed. It's a handy throwaway line we've all used, but if you don't take the next step to make sure that commitment is built into your workflow, it will never be honored. The challenge is that you're probably repeating that line to any number of people throughout your day ... with only good intentions, of course … and may overlook that your commitment is far more memorable to each person to whom you make it than it may be to you. What's missing is your commitment to honor your promise and make sure you take the necessary action steps to get it done.

I've exercised a modicum of literary license this week because while I believe R = Respect is an important building block of an effective leader, I've already written extensively about it. In fact, I have today released my  second free e-book, R.E.S.P.E.C.T.: How to Get It By Earning It, available at Exkalibur.com. So, maybe I earn a "Twofer" this week … and since Respect is already in the bag ... maybe even a "Threefer" when you consider that Responsibility is at least a kissing cousin of R=Reliable.

Reliability presents an interesting medley. While all of us expect our leaders to be reliable, Reliability is a characteristic that once lost, may be irretrievably gone. If you develop a reputation for being un-reliable, people will stop asking you for your help and support because they can't depend on you. If that happens, your tenure as a respected leader will be short-lived.

Sure, it's easy to respond ... "I'm very busy, I have a lot to do" ... "I have other more important priorities" ... but that won't fly with the people to whom you make commitments. If that's the best you've got, don't make any promises at all. Just say, "I can't do that ... I won't do that" ... or "go to someone else to have it done." The worst thing you can do is take on the responsibility and fail to deliver.

It's demanding to be reliable because it means that you need to get virtually everything done to which you've committed. You may have committed to provide leadership, resources, new products, funding ... bagels for this morning's meeting ... and everyone knows it. Even if someone only "perceives" that something needs to get done, e. g., your products are outmoded and definitely need to be upgraded, your "Reliability Quotient" will quickly dissipate when people don't see those new products being developed. Your colleagues will assume that what they've noticed by accident should be one of your core responsibilities. They will expect you to get it done even though you may not have made a specific commitment to do it.

In some ways, being reliable transcends many of the other essential qualities of leadership because people need to depend upon you under all circumstances. You might say that your constituents, whether employees customers or vendors, demand your Reliability -- because they also rely upon you to be Loyal, to pursue Excellence, to have a positive Attitude, to be Disciplined, to Educate yourself and your team ... the qualities of leadership we covered earlier in this series. Reliability becomes the linchpin of your leadership machine because without it, you can't be relied upon to consistently embrace or embody those other qualities.

Reliability is simple in concept but difficult to execute ... and very difficult to recover if you miss the mark. Say what you're going to do, and do it. Don't over-promise. Keep track of all your commitments to all your constituents ... and at the earliest possible moment when you suspect that you'll fall short, reach out to explain the situation. Let them know you haven't forgotten or overlooked your commitment, that it remains important and that you'll get it done as promised.

If you miss the mark on occasion, you'll be forgiven as long as your conduct squares with a demonstrated commitment to caring about what you promise. ... And you can be counted upon to get it done. Without Reliability, you'll only lead yourself into oblivion.


Lary Kirchenbauer is the President of Exkalibur Advisors, providing practical business strategies for middle market businesses. Exkalibur works closely with senior executives and their businesses at the intersection of leadership, finance and business strategy. You can subscribe to his newsletter at the Exkalibur web site at www.Exkalibur.com. You’ll also find a library of valuable resources, including a new video and podcast library as well as articles and insights related to middle market businesses.