Credibility: A Critical Foundation of Leadership

“If you don’t believe in the messenger, you won’t believe the message.” — Jim Kouzes, co-author of Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It

When people (and your horse) trust and believe in you as a leader, they’ll follow you far and without much question. But without credibility, that critical foundation of leadership, you face an uphill battle, because you’ll have the extra strain of trying to pull people along with you. And whether you’re the one pulling or the one being pulled, pretty soon you’re both weary and ready to give up.

Credibility stands on three legs: expertise, trustworthiness and integrity.

Expertise is an objective judgment, determined by such things as your credentials, your rank in the company and your prior accomplishments.

Trustworthiness is a subjective judgment, formed over time from a person’s experience interacting with you. Do you do what you say you’re going to do? Do you know what you say you know? How does it feel to work for you?

Integrity is another subjective judgment, formed over time from a person’s observations of you. Do you walk your talk, or do you say one thing and do another? Are you honest? Do you admit and take responsibility for your mistakes?

You may think you have a pretty good sense of your credibility among your team members (and your horse), but what are they really thinking?

Team Members:

One of the best ways to truly know how people are experiencing, observing and judging you as a leader is to conduct a 360° assessment. Named for the 360 degrees of a circle, this type of assessment measures your performance from the perspective of everyone you work with, including your direct reports.

It takes courage to enter into this process. You may not like everything you hear, and it may highlight some things that need changing. And that’s exactly why bringing credibility issues to the surface is such a crucial matter.

On the other hand, you may be doing most everything right, but your credibility in the eyes of your team members is still not where it needs to be. The most likely cause is that they don’t see what you’re doing.

In this case, it’s time to become more visible in the organization. Turn your office into a fishbowl and reveal what’s been going on behind closed doors. Then, get more involved and aware of what everyone else is working on. Practice “management by walking around,” the successful Hewlett-Packard strategy that Tom Peters and Bob Waterman popularized in their book, In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies.

A 360° assessment will reveal how credible you are in the eyes of your team. Then you’ll have the opportunity to improve that rating. It’s not enough to have the expertise and credentials. Your team members need to observe and experience your trustworthiness and integrity for themselves. So open up the office door more often, and get out and interact with people more. Show them you’re someone they can believe in.

Your Horse:

Since my horse can’t write and give me 360 degree feedback — yet! — I find the best way to discover what he really thinks about me is through liberty work. When working at liberty the horse has free choice, so if you are not a credible leader who he trusts and respects he will just dis-engage and not interact with you. Many people don’t often don’t enjoy their initial liberty sessions as it provides immediate feedback on how the horse perceives them, and sometimes this can be tough feedback to receive. However, as you step into the leadership role for your horse and act with more intention, integrity and authenticity your horse soon changes his perspective. And the result is magical Companion Walking and Liberty Dancing.

What feedback is your horse giving you today on how credible you are as a leader?

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