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When asked to describe a colleague or friend have you noticed how often “dependable” is an attribute you mention?  I don’t think I’m alone in saying, if someone is not dependable there’s a low probability they are still a close friend or colleague.

Dependability isn’t an inherent trait.  It’s one we learn, often through paying the price when we haven’t anticipated what could happen if we didn’t develop a dependability plan.

We all know people who charge down the path of life without this type of planning. Unfortunately, when one unexpected event occurs it snowballs, picking up steam as one issue after another piles on until there are consequences.  After a while these folks seem as if they’re going through life with a cloud over their heads and before long they’ve earned a reputation for not being dependable.

Every one of us has had to be away from work or home unexpectedly, or been delayed for one reason or another.  We prevent this from becoming the rule, rather than the exception, when we take the time to develop dependability plans.

The standards for professional dependability is based upon our position and the commitments we make.  For example, in my line of work, I’m required to be where I’m supposed to be, when I’m supposed to be there – which is often at a client site in another city – the first thing Monday morning.

My planning considers the events that are beyond my control for each step of the journey.  Therefore I:

  • Arrange transportation to the airport early enough to compensate for a traffic delay.
  • Arrive at the airport early enough to be able to mitigate the situation if there’s a long security line or a last minute gate change.
  • Reduce the risk of a flight cancellation by not booking a flight that is the last flight of the night.

Although this might seem overkill, I’ve found that mitigating the risks not only reduces my stress level, it’s essential to my professional reputation that I am dependable.

The same holds true for our personal lives.  The proverbial “had to work late and missed the important family event”, over time erodes the trust those of who depend upon us when we’ve made a commitment to be there.  After many years of disappointing those who were important to me I might have finally learned that in my personal life it’s so much better to under-commit and over-deliver … a concept we’re all familiar with professionally, but seldom seem to use professionally.

In my family on birthday’s we honor each person with a gift, selected from a wish list we each keep of something that would delight us, or a special dinner or event.  My oldest son had a show he wanted to see and mentioned what a wonderful birthday event it would be.  I gently reminded him I was working in a city whose weather pattern made my arriving home each weekend, unpredictable.  He understood immediately.

The beauty of this is the weekend the show is in town if I make it in on time, and there are still tickets available, and he has no other plans, I can surprise him at the last minute.  This would make the experience much more exciting, and I’ve eliminated the possibility that I’ll disappoint him.   By promising less, I might be able to give him more.

Dependability is more than just showing up, however, it’s showing up prepared and doing what you say you’ll do when you say you’re going to do it.   It’s having your part of the annual report drafted ahead of time so you can continue to improve upon it, making certain your monthly status report is prepared and proofed before it’s due, it’s checking the connection before the important conference call, and not needing to be constantly reminded.

I’ve had the unfortunate experience of watching more than one talented executive miss a promotion or sabotage his career by missing a deadline.  These problems could have easily been prevented by not procrastinating until the last minute.

Procrastinating affects our personal lives as well.  Calling our friend the day after his birthday, not picking up our significant other’s suit from the cleaners, not keeping up with our mail or our budget … all of these have consequences, none of them favorable.

Working to become dependable when we’ve let things get out of control is tough.  It’s the proverbial, “One step at a time.”   If you’re in this situation stop right now and make a list of the things you can get done today to get out of this cycle.  Now do those things, but keep the list. At the end of the day review the list and separate those things that are one-time and those things that are recurring.

Our goal should be to make routine those tasks that are recurring to ensure we get them done and find ways to significantly reduce the time it takes to complete them.  For example if every week you need to go to the grocery store, ATM, cleaners, and get gas for your car, find places that are on the way home from work, select the day you’ll do those things on your way home from work and knock them out.

Sometimes slowing down the lag time and frequency when we respond slows down the amount of input we receive that requires a response.  EMAIL, Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, etc. all react to the cadence of our responses.  By slowing down our responses, but being consistent about when we’ll respond, we can buy back some valuable time.  We aren’t obligated to comment on yet another funny cat video, although it’s fun to, but not at the expense of what we really care about.

Being reliable involves a dozen little choices every day..  The payoff comes when we have an emergency that prevents us from meeting a commitment.  When we’ve been consistent in being dependable we’re got enough stock of goodwill to weather the proverbial storm.

Leah Ward-Lee is a management consultant and business writer based in Dallas, Texas and the author of $1,000 Start-Ups.  Her next book, The Executive’s Toolbox, will be released in 2017.