Credibility: Where Words Tally With Deeds

Jul 10, 2015 1 Min Read


Credibility is the foundation of leadership because people have to believe in their leaders before they willingly follow them.

Credibility is also what leaders have when they earn and sustain the trust and confidence of their constituents or followers.

Leadership is a relationship between those who are appointed or aspire to lead and those who are required or choose to follow.

Credible leaders make a positive influence on people and organisations.

Earning and sustaining credibility requires six disciplines:

  • Discovering yourself, knowing your credos, competence, confidence and character.
  • Appreciating your constituents: their hopes, aspirations and interests.
  • Affirming shared values. Leaders need to know and integrate diverse viewpoints into unifying themes.
  • Developing the capacity of people in their organisations so that they are able to put their values into practice.
  • Serving with a purpose.
  • Sustaining hope by inspiring their constituents and restoring faith in a better future for everyone.

Leaders have to ask their constituents to struggle with great challenges, to change, and to succeed. Success in responding to challenges and change is inextricably linked to the credibility of those leading the efforts.

Constituents will commit and submit to the extent that they believe in those guiding the change.

Leadership is a relationship

Leadership may once have been conferred by title, rank or position. Those days of leadership authority are long gone.

Today, leadership is something that has to be earned every day, because on a daily basis, people choose whether or not they want to follow someone.

Leadership is a relationship between those who aspire to lead and those who choose to follow. Respected scholar and author John Gardner learnt that people willingly follow the direction of someone who is attuned to their aims and aspirations, worries and fears, ideals and images.

Loyalty is not something a boss or anyone can demand. It is something the people choose to grant to a leader who has earned it.

The key to unlocking greater leadership potential is by understanding the desires and expectations of constituents and acting on them in ways that correspond to their image of what an exemplary leader is and does.

The four characteristics that the majority of people look for and admire in their leaders are honesty, forward-looking, inspiring, and competence.

Honesty is the most sought-after leadership characteristic worldwide, and is absolutely essential to leadership. It is critical for leaders to have a vision, a sense of direction and a concern for the future of the organisation.

Leaders must know where they are going before they can ask others to join them. People admire leaders who are dynamic, inspiring, enthusiastic, positive and optimistic.

Leaders must not only have dreams of the future; they must be able to communicate those dreams in ways that encourage people to sign up and work hard for the goal.

People follow leaders whom they see as capable and effective. Credibility is something that is earned over time through the daily actions of leaders. It does not come automatically with the job or title.

Credibility makes a difference

Credible leaders make a positive difference in people’s lives and in the workplace. People are made to feel more worthy, more energised, and more committed to achieving extraordinary results after interactions with their most admired leaders.

Admired leaders focus attention on others, and not focused on satisfying their own aims and desires.

The critical difference that credibility makes is an increase in the willingness of constituents to put forth effort on behalf of the shared vision and values.

It is the credibility of the leadership that determines whether people will volunteer a little more of their time, talent, energy and effort in order to achieve more for the organisation.

Credibility earns commitment from people to work beyond their job descriptions and to their fullest capacity. The behavioural evidence that shows whether a leader is credible or not is “doing what they say they will do”.

Credibility is consistency between words and deeds. Leaders represent their organisations and not just themselves.

The leaders’ actions must be consistent with the shared values of the organisation. To earn and sustain credibility, leaders have to get to know their constituents and let their constituents get to know them.

Discover yourself

Leaders must seek self-knowledge if they want to establish and enhance their credibility. Personal credibility depends on how well a person knows his values and beliefs, strengths and weaknesses, and the level of commitment he is willing to make.

The leader must discover his credo, competencies and confidence as he begins his leadership development journey. Credo is the set of values and beliefs that serves as a guide to decisions and actions.

Competencies are the knowledge, skills, and abilities that can be used to transform words into actions.

Confidence is the will to make use of the competencies. It is the trust in one’s abilities to do what one believes, especially in uncertain and challenging times.

The first stage of the credibility journey is to clarify your personal credo.

Constituents rightfully expect their leaders to have the courage of their convictions and to stand up for their beliefs.

You have to discover those fundamental beliefs and values that will guide your decisions and actions.

Values are the standards that guide your conduct in a variety of settings and situations. Through them, you can take positions on issues, choose your policies, and evaluate your own as well as others’ beliefs and actions.

Values also serve as guides for resolving conflicts. To create high morality in one’s organisation, it is important to have the right values.

Moral leadership is about attending and adhering to principles rather than following a person. It also requires providing people with choices and alternatives instead of imposing the leader’s will.

Competence is one of the key elements of credibility. Acquiring competence enables one to be genuine. Before leaders can do the right things, they have to know how to do things right.

Mis-leadership is the inevitable result of swashbuckling overconfidence accompanied by a lack of competence. To lead and not to mislead, the leader must have the knowledge and skills to perform their tasks and uphold the values they profess.

However, competence alone does not ensure the capacity to act on your values. You must also have the confidence to apply your skills and act on your beliefs. Psychologists refer to this self-confidence as ‘self-efficacy’.

According to psychologist Albert Bandura, “self-efficacy is concerned with people’s beliefs in their capabilities to mobilise the motivation, cognitive resources, and the courses of action needed to exercise control over task demands.”

Belief in your own self-efficacy will influence the level of challenge and leadership that you will seek. There are at least four ways self-efficacy can be enhanced: mastery experiences or learning to do the task well, observing role models, getting social support and encouragement, and reinterpreting personal stress as a natural part of the learning process.

Koh Earn Soo and his team take the best books and summarise them into shorter, readable content in the hope of inspiring people to read more and learn more. For more Learning From Books articles, click here.

First appeared on Published in English daily The Star, Malaysia, 11 July 2015

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Sara firmly believes that learning is a two-way process between a student and a teacher, and that everyday heroes are just as important as superheroes.

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