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A Leader’s Excuses Damages Trust With Those They Lead

Failing to follow-through tells the other person that our commitment was not a priority.

“I ran out of time.” is a common excuse. I have said this to clients, bosses, my wife and my children. It is a knee jerk excuse that will spill from my mouth without me thinking about how much I damage trust and my influence as a leader.

When someone says “I ran out of time,” they are actually saying, “I had other priorities.” The truth is, we all have twenty-four hours in a day. Our priorities come to light when we examine where we spend our time during those twenty-four hours. If I make a commitment to be somewhere or get something done and fail to follow-through, that tells the other person that commitment was not a priority to me.

Competing priorities are a part of our busy lives. New projects, new opportunities or new responsibilities will emerge after we make a commitment. It is part of life. But, each time we make a commitment, our Integrity is on the line. When we make an excuse for not fulfilling our commitments, those excuses often compound the issue by hurting the trust others have placed in us.

Think about a time when someone failed to follow through on a commitment to you.

  • Your boss comes late to meeting or bails out on lunch plans at the last minute.

  • The plumber doesn’t arrive between 2pm-5pm as promised.

  • Your child or your spouse doesn’t fill up your gas tank after they use your car.

When their excuse is “I ran out of time.” How do you feel? Do you feel valued? The next time they make a similar promise, do you question whether they mean it? Of course you do. When someone makes a commitment to us, we want to expect the best. But now, we no longer do. Trust is on life support in that relationship.

Leaders can’t afford to lose trust with those they lead – at work or at home. A leader’s Integrity is on the line with each commitment we make. Each excuse we make after failing to follow through compounds the damage.

As we said before, competing priorities are a part of life. So how do we exercise Integrity and protect the trust the other person has given us?

  • Be careful how many commitments we make. If we believe our Integrity is valuable, we must be mindful of what we commit to doing for others – or else we will let them down.

  • Once we make a commitment, we have given our word – we must treat our word as gold.

  • If competing priorities emerge, don’t take it lightly. Communicate with both sides early and be forthright about the situation.

  • Finally, don’t make an excuse. Apologize, ask for forgiveness and then do everything in our power to fix the situation we created.

Most people don’t expect perfection from us, but they do expect us to exercise Integrity when we fall short. If we seize responsibility for running out of time – without making excuses – they are likely to give us the benefit of the doubt. We get the benefit of the doubt because exercising Integrity by not making excuses is so rare these days. They appreciate our honesty and trust is preserved.

Dig Deep Questions:

  • When has someone else’s excuse damaged your trust in them?

  • What commitments do you need to follow through on this week?


Taking responsibility and exercising Integrity is a lifelong journey for not only you, but your team. We want to partner with you as you make Integrity part of your organizational culture. When it comes to remembering the definition of Integrity, let us help to make it easy to keep it visible.

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