Credibility is a foundation post of leadership. When people trust you and believe in you as a leader, they’ll follow you even when the path ahead isn’t clear to them. But without credibility, you are set for a struggle, because you will always be pulling people along. And if you stop pulling, they just stop.
“If you don’t believe in the messenger, you won’t believe the message.” — Jim Kouzes, co-author of Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It
According to Kouzes, credibility has three elements to it: expertise, trustworthiness and integrity.
Expertise usually fairly obvious, determined by things like your qualifications and credentials, your position in the company, your track record of delivery and achievements.
Trustworthiness is a judgment, formed over time from a person’s experience interacting with you. Do you do what you say you’re going to do? Do you know what you say you know? How does it feel to work for you? Do you have the best interests of the business and its employees at heart? Do you genuinely care?
Integrity is another subjective judgment, formed over time from a person’s observations of you. Do you walk your talk, or do you say one thing and do another? Do you admit and take responsibility for your mistakes? Do you do the right thing, even when it’s challenging? Are your motives clear, without hidden agendas? Stephen M.R. Covey in The Speed of Trust explains that, “a person has integrity when there is no gap between intent and behavior.” It is about congruence.
You may think you have a pretty good sense of your credibility among your team members, but do you really know what they think of you?
One of the best ways to truly know how people are experiencing, observing and judging you as a leader is to participate in an assessment. Commonly referred to as a 360 degree assessment, the best measure your performance by collecting feedback from all around you – 360 degrees – your manager, peers, direct reports, clients and other categories. Your business may already participate in 360 degree feedback, or you may need to talk to HR, or commission a consultant to design and run a feedback process for you. One of the key things though, is that people can participate safely – without fear of consequences for giving feedback.
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Seeking feedback is tough. Most people don’t like the idea of asking for feedback from fear of what might be uncovered. It challenges a basic human instinct – to stay emotionally safe by being part of a group. It takes courage to participate. You may not like everything you hear, and it can highlight things that you need to change, it can even raise issues that you just don’t want to have to deal with.
On the other hand, you may be doing most everything right, but your credibility in the eyes of others is still not where it needs to be. The most likely cause is that they don’t see what you’re doing. If this is the case for you, then you need to work on being more visible in the business. Get out, talk to people more, reveal what you are working on, and get more involved and interested in what everyone else is working on. Practice “management by walking around,” the successful Hewlett-Packard strategy that Tom Peters and Bob Waterman espoused in their book, In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies.
It goes almost without saying that the way you handle any feedback you receive has the ability to create or diminish credibility. Even when you have had tough feedback, going back to the people who provided it for you and saying something like “Thank you for giving me feedback. I learned this about myself and these are some of the actions I am going to take” can raise your credibility a long way in their eyes. Then take the actions you outlined and seek more feedback on how it is working for you.
As many leaders are discovering, it is simply not enough to have expertise and qualifications. If you want people to willingly follow where you lead, your team members need to observe and experience your trustworthiness and integrity for themselves. So get out there, be congruent, and show them that they can believe in you.
Rosalind Cardinal is The Leadership Alchemist and Principal Consultant of Shaping Change, an Australian consultancy, specialising in improving business outcomes by developing individuals, teams and organisations. . Ros’ expertise spans leadership development, organisational culture, team building, change and transition management, organisational behaviour, employee engagement and motivation, strategic direction and management.
For tips on developing resilience, visit www.shapingchange.com.au/resources to pick up your complimentary copy of Ros’ report “Thriving in Change” and to sign up for her free audio series “Thriving in the Midst of Change”.