If a person is reliable, you can predict what they will do, and you believe those actions will be good.
A reliable employee will show up to work on time and do their job well.
A reliable employer will not fire you without advanced notice, engage in unethical business practice, or abandon its employees during times of economic downturn.
A reliable business partner will not lie or cheat, pay bills on time, and make sound strategic decisions.
Reliable people can be relied on.
A reliable person is predictable. If they agree to accomplish a task for you, they will accomplish that task without you needing to remind them. If they schedule a meeting at 5 pm, they’ll be there within a few minutes or give you advanced notice. If they promise that they’ll keep your secret, then they won’t accidentally slip up.
A reliable person acts in a way that is good. If they agree to accomplish a task for you, they will do that task well. Advice they give will not predictably lead you astray. If they can help you at little cost to themselves, then they will do so. They will take precautions to avoid causing harm.
Being reliable means that you can be modeled as a stable part of the environment. I can assign you a task and know it will be done in time, which means I don’t have to keep track. I can schedule a meeting with you and know that you’ll be there on time without a reminder. I can ask for advice and know that you’ll give the necessary caveats. I can believe you when you tell me things because I know your beliefs track reality.
Being reliable requires good judgment. A moderately reliable person will make locally strategic decisions. An extremely reliable person will make globally strategic decisions. A perfectly reliable person can be handed the keys to the universe without disaster.
Being reliable in bounded domains is easy. Being reliable globally, across all domains, is difficult. Most people are not even moderately reliable.
Many people fall short of being reliable, not because they have poor judgment, but because they cannot track tasks or show up on time. This lack of reliability means it requires extra effort to interact with them. If I schedule a meeting with such a person, I have to set a reminder to remind them. If I ask them to do a task, I have to check if they’ve done it. In the latter case, one risks spending more time checking if the task got done than it would have taken to do the task yourself.
Being late for one meeting isn’t important. Being a person that is late for meetings means that other people have to schedule around you. Forgetting to buy groceries isn’t important. Being a person that forgets to buy groceries means that other people have to plan around you. Accidentally spilling a secret might not be important. Being a person that can’t keep secrets means no one ever tells you any. In general, being unreliable imposes additional costs and constraints on people that wish to interact with you.
Being reliable is a high bar. The world has few reliable people. The world desperately needs more of them.