Credibility: You Can’t Lead Without It

The show must go on Remove the foundation from under a house, and the building collapses.

Remove the engine from a car, and it can’t be driven anywhere.

Remove oxygen from the air, and people stop breathing.

Pick your metaphor, and you’ll be correct about credibility. Remove it from leadership and all is lost.

What is Credibility?

Credibility is the trust others place in you that allows them to follow you. The degree to which that trust exists is the degree to which you’ll have influence as a leader, at work or at home, in business and in politics, at church or at school.

When leaders have credibility, their people follow them to the ends of the earth (and back again), as with Earnest Shackleton’s journey across the Antarctic. Shackleton’s harrowing expedition in 1914 was beset by one disaster after another, yet he returned with his entire crew in tact nearly three years later, all of whom remained fiercely loyal to his leadership.

MORE: What Kind of Authority Do You Have as a Leader?

When leaders lose credibility, even the smallest setbacks become insurmountable obstacles as people refuse to follow anyone but themselves and cling to the demands of their own agenda.

The Keys to Credibility

There’s no magic formula to gaining credibility with your people, no secret recipe kept hidden for the ages. Credibility has two essential ingredients that are simple and pure: character and consistency.

Two Keys to Credibility

Character is defined by the values you believe in, the qualities you embrace at the very core of your being. They are the guiding principles of your life, and the convictions you’re committed to fulfilling no matter the circumstances that come your way.

Consistency is the actions you take based on your beliefs. It’s the behavior that embodies your core values. It’s actually doing the things you believe in, over and over again. Not perfection–that state is unattainable this side of eternity–but clear alignment between what you say and what you actually do.

I can’t see your character. It exists theoretically in the ideals you espouse. Character becomes real, however, through consistency. And it’s that consistency, repeatedly observed by others, that makes you a leader worthy of their trust.

The Credibility of a Chair

For example: if I walk into a room with a group of people sitting in a circle that has an empty chair, I naturally walk over to the chair. I can’t see how the chair was made, the materials that went into its production, or the craftsmanship that assembled it. In other words, I can’t see its character.

What I can see, however, is its consistency. I see all four legs lying flat on the floor. I see the back straight and solid. I see others resting comfortably in chairs exactly like it. Because of its consistency, the chair has credibility; and I sit down.

If the chair was crooked, if it wobbled, or if it was cast off to the side of the room upside down on the floor, I would think twice before sitting in it, if at all. No observed consistency, no credibility.

The same is true as leaders. Observed consistency builds the credibility that allows others to trust us and “sit down,” resting confidently in our leadership.

Six Habits of Credibility

Here are six habits every leader must master to gain the credibility they need to be effective with their people:

  1. Practice what you preach. Let your actions speak louder than your words.
  2. Honor your word. When you say you’re going to do something, do it. No exceptions.
  3. Be real. Drop the chest-thumping bravado and ego-driven head games.
  4. Give credit to others and accept blame yourself. Most leaders do just the opposite.
  5. Say sorry when you’re wrong. Made a mistake? Admit it, openly and honestly.
  6. Never give up. Cling to the courage of your convictions, even (especially) when things get tough.

How are you doing in each of these areas?

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