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Credibility: It Still Matters

Posted Jul 18 2011 12:00am
Credibility new
"You cannot follow someone who isn't credible, who doesn't truly believe in what they're doing -- and how they're doing it." 
- Gayle Hamilton, chief of staff for the senior vice president at Pacific Gas & Electric

Indulge us as we go back to one of our fundamental beliefs about leadership: leadership is a relationship between those who aspire to lead and those who choose to follow. As we took a deeper dive into the research we've conducted over the past 30 
years, we found the same crucial attributes year after year that people seek in leaders whom they would willingly follow: honest, forward-looking, inspiring, and competent. And these results hold true around the world. 

As we examine these characteristics one by one, each is a realistic attribute for a leader to possess. When viewed through a broader lens, the four descriptors combine to create a richer meaning as the foundation for leadership. 

Credit and credibility come from the same root word: credo, meaning "I trust or believe." In whom do you trust or believe? Who has earned credibility in your perspective, and why?

Credibility is not universally inherent; it must be earned over time. Some leaders earn it sooner than others based upon the quality of their relationships. Others must prove their worthiness to be deemed credible, perhaps based on previously broken promises or a lack of honesty, inspiration, or competence. Ultimately, credibility is determined by those who surround a leader. A leader who lacks the aforementioned crucial ingredients is one people are less likely to follow.

Credible leaders possess the ability to leave a long-lasting, postive impact on people's lives. Consider your answers to the questions above. Did the person who came to mind as a credible leader make an imprint on you? Have you made an imprint on others?

We cannot address credibility without referring to what we heard from Irwin Federman, venture capitalist and former CFO and CEO, when speaking to students at Santa Clara University:

"You don't love someone because of who they are, you love them because of the way they make you feel. This axiom applies equally to a company setting. It may seem inappropriate to use words such as love and affection in relation to business. Conventional wisdom has it that management is not a popularity contest... I contend, however, that all things being equal, we will work harder and more effectively for people we like. And we will like them in direct proportion to how they make us feel."

And just how do credible leaders make people feel? Our research of over a thousand case studies shows 10 descriptors used most often:

  • Valued
  • Motivated
  • Enthusiastic
  • Challenged
  • Inspired
  • Capable
  • Supported
  • Powerful
  • Respected
  • Proud

We leave you with this final thought: put yourself in the shoes of those you lead. How many of them would use these descriptors when sharing how you make them feel? What can you do to increase the frequency of leaving people feeling this way as a result of your leadership?

We'll have more to share about Credibility at The Leadership Challenge Forum , July 28-29 in Chicago. Hope to see you there. 

Until then, love 'em and lead 'em. 

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