Credibility: A Critical Foundation of Leadership

When people trust and believe in you as a leader, they’ll follow you far and without much question. But without credibility, a critical foundation of leadership, you face an uphill battle, because you have the extra strain of trying to pull people along with you. And whether you’re the one pulling or the one being pulled, pretty soon you’re both weary and ready to give up.

Credibility stands on three legs, expertise, trustworthiness and integrity.

Expertise is an objective judgment, determined by such things as your credentials, your ranks in the company and your prior accomplishments.

Trustworthiness is a subjective 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?

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? Are you honest? Do you admit and take responsibility for your mistakes?

You may think you have a pretty good sense of your credibility among your team members, but what are they really thinking?

360 Assessments
One of the best ways to truly know how people are experiencing, observing and judging you as a leader is to conduct a 360 assessment. The 360 assessment measures your performance from the perspective of the people that work for or with you, including direct reports.

It takes courage to enter into this process. You may not like everything you hear, and it may highlights some things that need changing. And that’s exactly why bringing credibility issues to the surface is such a critical matter.

On the other hand, you may be doing most everything right, but your credibility in the eyes of your team members is still not where it needs to be. The most likely cause is that they don’t see what you’re doing.

Become More Visible
In this case it’s time to become more visible in the organization. Turn your office into a fish bowl and reveal what’s been going on behind closed doors. If team members don’t see what you’re doing, it’s easy for them to assume you’re not working as hard as they are.

Another strategy is to become more involved in and aware of what everyone else is working on. Practice “management by walking around” the successful Hewitt Packard strategy that Tom Peter’s and Bob Waterman popularized in their book, In Search of Excellence, Lessons from America’s Best Run Companies.

In “management by walking around” as you make your informal visits to work areas and listen to your team members’ suggestions and complaints, you’ll not only gather qualitative information and become more visible, but you’re spontaneous interactions just might generate creative solutions to problems you thought were intractable.

The 360 assessment will reveal how creative you are in the eyes of your team. Then you’ll have the opportunity to improve that rating. Remember it’s not enough to have the expertise and credentials. Your team members need to observe and experience your trustworthiness and integrity themselves.

So open the office door more often, and get out and interact with your team. Show them you’re someone they can believe in. Everyone benefits, you, your organization and all your team members.

Vicki Z. Lauter is a Managing Partner with Strategic Human Insights. She is also a member of the HBA Atlanta Chapter. You can reach her at 404-978-2616

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