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Is My Word My Bond?

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Weekly Impact is written for leaders by our Executive Director, Garth Jestley, who has decades of experience in senior leadership roles in the financial services sector. Each week he will share insights on life, leadership and faith.

Recently, I listened to a message on the critical importance of always keeping our word, even in seemingly insignificant matters. It brought to mind a distant past event. Let’s just say it was long before the internet, cell phones, personal computers and even faxes. In fact, the slide rule was still in vogue!

At the time, I was working for Citibank in New York. A newly appointed senior executive had sent a memorandum to his direct reports, the purpose of which was to clarify his expectations. Copies of the memorandum were leaked and widely circulated.

Although I cannot remember the entire contents, the memorandum included a number of scenarios the most memorable of which may be paraphrased as follows. “Suppose you and I agree that you will provide me with your written recommendations concerning the subject at hand by 12:00 pm this Friday. On Friday, you deliver the report at 12:01 pm. THAT IS A FAIL.” The other scenarios all ended with the sentence “THAT IS A FAIL”!

At first blush, his perspective seems harsh, overly rigid. However, it certainly underscores the importance of keeping one’s word. Indeed, in the securities trading business, many transactions are agreed orally and subsequently confirmed in writing. Because the rule of my former business is “my word is my bond,” the transaction is actually sealed orally. To resolve any transaction-related disputes, the standard practice of industry participants is to record all telephone conversations on the trading desk.

Our word should be our bond regardless of how small the matter.

As marketplace leaders, our reputation is built not only on competence but also our record as promise keepers. For example, have you ever said “I’ll try to do such and such” when you knew the probability of actually doing it is the square root of zero? I can recall having done just that on occasion. By God’s grace, however, I am forgiven and getting much better at not saying “I’ll try” unless I really mean it.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to be truth tellers. Our word should be our bond regardless how small the matter. If we say we will meet at 12:00 noon, let’s not arrive at 12:01 pm unless faced with an unforeseen obstacle outside our control. Coincidentally, a friend called me last week to let me know there was a huge accident on the highway and, as a result, he would have to reschedule our breakfast. From my perspective, he honoured his commitment to the best of his ability, since he called me prior to the time scheduled for our meeting.

As usual, Jesus, who declared Himself to be the very embodiment of truth and, by extension, truth telling, said it best. “Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:37)

Garth Jestley is a husband, father, grandfather, leader and business executive. Most importantly, he is a follower of Jesus Christ.