In my role as a talent development professional, I have been helping managers become better leaders for longer than I like to admit (think decades, not years). When I facilitate leadership sessions, participants are often surprised to learn that I believe credibility is the most essential trait of a leader. I am not surprised to learn that they often don’t agree with me, or that our perception of credibility and the day-to-day interpretation of it, are vastly different.
Many managers have the misconception that if they are honest with direct reports, they are automatically credible. There’s the notion that if a manager has good interpersonal relationships with team members, their credibility is on solid ground. And, the more managers believe this, the more they lose sight of protecting their credibility and demonstrating the right behaviors for effective leadership.
Let’s face it, honesty and positive relationships are important to leaders, but if you Google “credibility definition” you won’t find that. You’ll discover the top-ranked answer is “the quality of being trusted and believed in” and the synonyms include trustworthiness, reliability, and dependability.
Whether you are an aspiring leader or a seasoned one, here’s what you need to know about credibility and how to keep it.
Everyone is credible until they aren’t
When we take on a new role with a new team, we go in as a credible leader. People assume we are trustworthy, reliable and dependable until we prove otherwise. We want others to perceive us as such, but usually, we don’t make much effort to strengthen or sustain our credibility, believing “yeah, I got this”. That’s a mistake.
It doesn’t take a scandal to derail your credibility
You don’t need a workplace scandal to damage your credibility. If that were the case, this would be a no-brainer, and we could forget about it. But, it’s not that simple. Small actions have a cumulative effect and lessen our leadership ability over time. It’s these “small things” that erode trustworthiness and keep it on a downward spiral until you make the connection between how day-to-day behaviors affect the perception of others.
Here are ten ways managers impact their credibility every single day:
1. When you say you support open and honest communication, but you have a tendency to sugarcoat messages because you’re uncomfortable delivering bad news, you foster an environment that isn’t based on truth.
2. When you praise the entire team for results that a select few are responsible for, you change the rules about good performance, and what it means to be successful.
3. When you assign tight deadlines for projects, reports, and tasks, only to take days before reviewing the work, you send a message that deadlines aren’t necessary, nor are their efforts.
4. When you come to meetings without an agenda or clear expected outcomes, you lack the direction and purpose that a team expects from a leader they want to follow.
5. When you drop the ball and expect your team to drop everything and rally toward an avoidable last-minute deadline, you let them know you play by a different set of rules.
6. When you say you are going to do something different as a team, or as a manager, but it never materializes, and you never mention it again, you tell others you’re not to be believed.
7. When you vacillate between good boss/bad boss to the extent no one knows who is going to show up at work on any given day, but you apologize for your bad days, you diminish your credibility.
8. When you are late to meetings, you send a signal that your time is more valuable than everyone else’s.
9. When you take credit for results, when credit isn’t due you whittle away at your credibility.
10. When you blame others for your mistakes, you tarnish your image as a leader.
It’s easier to keep your credibility than get it back
It’s a hell of a lot easier to maintain your credibility than it is to get it back once you lose it. This concept is probably true with many things in life. I always correlate it to a high school reputation. Once you develop a bad one, it’s difficult if not impossible to change perception. Fortunately, that was high school, and now you’re a professional with a good career and the skills to approach situations much differently.
It’s never too late to get it back
Whether you have been a manager for years, or are new to the role, if you feel your credibility has taken a hit, don’t worry. It’s never too late to take steps to strengthen it. People look to you as their leader, not a saint. To become more credible, avoid the ten examples listed above. To restore or strengthen your credibility, adopt a new mindset. Here’s how:
Admit that you don’t know everything. As a leader when you let your team know that you don’t know it all, you appear more human and credible in their eyes. You also begin to foster more collaborative relationships.
Acknowledge when you drop the ball or make mistakes. By doing so, you send a strong message about the importance of accountability for you as a leader and everyone on the team. People respect that.
Promise to do better. When you tell people you are committed to doing better, they can start to believe in you again. They may be shocked by your new declaration, if that’s not your typical behavior, but also pleasantly surprised when you do.
Take a moment to consider your day-to-day behaviors. Are you a credible leader? You may think so, but what matters most is the perception of others. Review the ten ways your credibility can take a hit mentioned above, and identify what you can do differently.
Do you have any examples of other actions that you believe influence credibility? How do you maintain credibility on a daily basis? Please share your ideas!
Dory Wilson is a talent development expert and the founder of Your Office Mom. She taps into her extensive work and real-life experience to offer advice, and tips on an array of career topics and workplace issues, catering to the millennials who don't like millennial stereotypes.
During her 30 year career, Dory has worked for two of the largest non-profits plus retail and technology Fortune 1000 companies leading talent development initiatives with roles in training, learning technology, and organizational development. She has an M.S. in Occupational and Adult Education.