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Leadership Credibility in 5 Easy Ways

Being a successful leader requires someone to possess and balance a whole plethora of traits and characteristics. I have blogged many times about leadership and how to be successful, as have many other people who are way smarter and more qualified to do so than me! However, in reflecting on my experience as a leader, as well as thinking about leaders I have worked with and for, there is one very important characteristic that I feel all leaders need to possess in order to be successful, and that is credibility.

Successful leaders are almost always seen as having a high degree of credibility by their employees. For purposes of this article, I am not thinking of, or referring to, the credibility that is gained from technical or functional knowledge – i.e. being a subject matter expert. I am referring to the soft skill credibility successful leaders possess based on the Number 5perception their employees have of them. This is the credibility, which in the eyes of their employees, improves their trust in them, aids in communication and makes them want to fully engage in the work they do for their leader. This is the credibility that ultimately leads to you, as a leader, and your employees both being successful in your roles.
So, how exactly does one gain this credibility that is so important for leadership success? I believe that fundamentally it comes down to five (mostly easy) ways that when utilized effectively, allow managers to gain credibility and thus transform themselves into successful leaders:

1. Explain Why – when it comes to the broader organizational or departmental stuff, to gain credibility as a leader, you sometimes need to stop and provide the “why” to your staff. Explain to them why a certain sales strategy was employed, or why a large customer bid was won or lost. Take the time to explain why the company made a major (or minor) acquisition or why they had to shed 10% of its workforce. My point being, is that whether or not the decision is viewed as good or bad, popular or unpopular, you need to take the time to explain the “why” to your staff. This builds trust, fosters communication and ultimately builds your credibility as a leader.

2. Explain Why Not – similar to the first point, for the big picture stuff, or even for things that have a major impact on one or two employees, sometimes you just need to explain “why not” to your staff. The need to do this (explain why not) often occurs when employees do things like:

a. make improvement suggestions;
b. refer colleagues to be hired;
c. request an out of cycle pay increase; or,
d. request funds for social or reward types of activities.

There are many times, and for valid reasons, that these requests cannot be accommodated or fulfilled. Perhaps there is a spending freeze or an unanticipated capital purchase that has come up which impacts your ability to make these types of purchases. Perhaps the job that someone was referred for (by one of your employees) was put on hold or cancelled. Maybe your parent company is coming down with its own reward program so you can’t provide funding for a department specific event. Regardless, as a leader, you need to explain the “why not” to your employees. Simply provide some basic facts and provide them with a professional, respectful answer. If there is no explanation given, then your staff will make up their own explanation/reasons for why something can’t be done and believe me when I tell you it will be far worse than the actual truth!

3. Think and Act Big Picture – nothing damages a leader’s credibility more, or doesn’t even allow them to establish it, than getting into the weeds on things. Leaders that micro manage, or focus too much on the very near term or short term on a regular basis (think, tomorrow or even next week) or worse yet, focus on the past, will never establish credibility. Their myopic outlook will never inspire confidence and establish credibility with their staff. As a leader, you need to keep your staff focused on the big picture by providing the vision, guidance and direction on how to get there. Your actions need to focus on enabling and linking your employees’ efforts to the greater good.

4. Understand the Issues – when it comes to the coaching and development of your staff, you need to make sure you take the time to understand the issues. In your department meetings and/or 1:1 coaching sessions, make sure you actively listen to their concerns. Take the time to ask the right questions, probe and get to the root cause of what might be impacting their ability to perform. Solicit and consider staff feedback on things that are impacting the entire department’s ability to be successful. Leadership credibility is established by fostering communication and building trust. This is done through the daily communication touch points you have with your employees. Take advantage of these moments and invest the time in understanding the issues at hand.

5. Admit when you don’t understand – this is, arguably, one of the hardest things for a leader to do but it is so critical to establishing credibility. This is a key area where I have seen far too many leaders get tripped up. For some reason, they feel that if they admit to their staff that they don’t understand something, it is seen as a form of weakness or they think they won’t be respected. So what do they do? They bluff their way out of it! Eventually, everything comes full circle and the leader’s credibility is damaged in the long run. To establish your credibility, admit when you don’t understand something. If the numbers don’t make sense, the sales pitch isn’t clear, or technical problems the group is faced with are not understood by you, than admit it. Ask for clarification. Ask your employee(s) to explain it another way. It is ok to admit that you need clarification because that will help you better support them and allow them to be successful. At the end of the day, this will only serve to build trust and establish your credibility.

When I mentioned at the beginning of this post that you can establish leadership credibility in five easy ways, it was meant to be said a bit tongue in cheek. However, my point is this – it doesn’t take a lot of time, money or effort to begin to establish your credibility. If you focus on humility, honesty, respect and communication as desired outcomes, than you can greatly enhance your leadership credibility in the end. Start with the first two ways and then work your way into the last three, more difficult ones. I wish you the best of luck and as always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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2 Responses

  1. Good article. Yesterday, I posted some thoughts on how people sacrifice their credibility when they don’t live according to their convictions. You can check it out at http://witnessrunner.wordpress.com. Your article gives me more ideas of how we might better construct and reinforce those standards. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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