We earn credibility when we're able to perform tasks that require a high level of expertise with little supervision or guidance. When we do well, we're given additional tasks and responsibilities, and expectations increase.
There are three ways to look at credibility.
Credibility at the organizational level.
When credibility is on the line, an organization must respond quickly and honestly. Consider how Mattel has managed recent safety issues by recalling many of its toys. Juxtapose its business philosophies with other companies such as WorldCom and Enron. How does your company approach major issues, such as product safety? How does it build and communicate its strategic plans?
Credibility with others. The second way to view credibility is from a personal perspective. How do you respond when others look to you for solutions, guidance, and leadership? Do you follow through on commitments? Are you honest and forthright when something within the organization is at risk or highly sensitive? Do you engage your work through values lived - not just spoken?
Credibility at a personal level. The third approach to credibility, and perhaps the most important, is when no one is looking. Credibility should be transparent, not only applied when the boss or peers are watching. As you move through your day completing tasks and conversing with others, do you consistently live a set of unquestionable values?
Credibility is an important part of your effectiveness and ultimate success or failure at work. Credible people perform at high levels and drive high performance in others. As a result, people want to work with and for credible people.
But credibility is in the eye of the beholder. It isn't based on what you think of yourself, but rather what others think of you. If you lose your credibility with others, it is hard to restore but not impossible.
A few years ago, a sales company brought us in as leadership coaches. A new sales manager, Brad, had been asked to lead a team and problems quickly developed. He came to the organization with an Ivy League diploma, years of experience, and an impeccable record. His boss, Tim, had faith in Brad to run the department well and without much guidance.
The honeymoon stage for Brad didn't last long. Brad didn't ask questions, and employees started to complain that he didn't take the time to learn about the business or sales issues. However, he did make many changes to the group, such as reorganizing the sales team. Over the year, tensions grew.
Tim came to us to assess the issues, provide feedback, and give Brad the tools he needed to respond to his situation. It didn't work. Brad was resistant to change and failed to see that his methods weren't the only options. He never earned the support of his team and ultimately lost his job.
Don't assume you have credibility just because you have impeccable credentials and a measurable, resultsoriented track record. Many times, senior executives view credibility as a "given," rather than as something they have to build and maintain. But, as we all know, reputation is a critical factor in attracting and retaining investors, customers, and employees. Without it, you and your organization will lose.
Although difficult, people can improve their credibility. Consider another example: Frank was a well-respected executive with more than 30 years experience in his industry. He often gave presentations and published papers. Professionals in Frank's field listened to him. Ironically, he was more respected outside his company than within.
Frank's work responsibilities changed as his business unit consolidated with several others under one large umbrella. It became more important for Frank to add clients and develop employees. While his technical skills were superb, his business results were less than stellar. His credibility was tested, and he didn't fare well. His team knew it, and so did his CEO.
However, the CEO had confidence in Frank and wanted him to succeed. When we first met Frank, we encouraged him to obtain direct feedback from his team and peers to gauge their impressions of his effectiveness. This helped him develop insight and see himself more objectively.
Frank saw that he had been reactive to problems rather than proactive. He also saw that his lack of decisiveness was inadvertently breeding tentativeness among his team. Frank took steps to apply his industry knowledge in more practical ways. He persevered and in a year things changed. His willingness to apply new ways of thinking helped him earn the trust of his team and the credibility he deserved.
Increasing your credibility
Credibility is never overlooked. And even though it is difficult to define, it is easy to recognize. Consider adopting these behaviors to increase your credibility.
Live a set of unquestionable values.
Remember that you earn credibility from all sorts of situations, especially when you are tested. For example, what is your role during a corporate downsizing, and how do you communicate the message? As part of the organization's management team are you personally attentive to other people's feelings and the significant outcomes that will result and shape their lives?
Align your role with your natural talents.
If you are doing what you love 70 to 80 percent of the time, your performance will improve. Keep this in mind, not just for yourself, but also for the people who work for you. If your job is a hard fit, you won't do well. More important, it won't provide you leverage with your team. If people see that your performance is lagging, you won't have a credible stance.
Execute with consistency and meaningful results.
At the end of the day, you must deliver results. Results matter - both qualitative and quantitative. The more people see that you are someone they can depend on, the more people will expect of you, trust you, and respect you.
Step back and try to view your credibility as a leader.
The only way to know how people perceive you is to ask. Often, the people who need to improve don't even consider whether they need to examine their business persona. They can't step back and see themselves as others might.
Request feedback from your peers, as well as your manager.
Seek insight from the people who work for you, and make it safe for them to provide it. Consider using feedback assessment tools, such as a 360-degree evaluation. Feedback needs to be actionable for change and growth to take place, so be sure to act on it when you receive it.
Demonstrate accountability with the commitments you make and the advice you give.
Remember that accountability does not only pertain to the tasks that are on the company's radar screen, such as big ticket items like delivering a financial report on time or producing an effective sales presentation. Accountability also is reflected in tasks that often go unnoticed by management. Ask yourself: Do you make time for your direct reports? Do you keep your door open or closed? Do you return phone calls promptly? These are simple things that say a lot about you.
Some practical considerations to remember:
- Before you take on assignments, make sure you have the capabilities to fulfill them. If you don't, speak up, gain the skills, or take on a different task.
- Be certain that you are committed to the assignment. If you don't have the time or passion for a task, consider other options. Can it be reassigned? If you do have the time, but don't "like" the assignment, embrace it with a greater goal and better attitude.
- Remember to under promise and over-deliver. Always try to do one better - complete a task earlier than expected, make one extra sale, come in under budget. People will quickly learn they can count on you.
Business leaders who engage their employees through inclusive processes, connect with others, and articulate plans in a timely manner, will enhance their credibility. Think about the sort of leader you want to be, and remember that every interaction is an opportunity to build and maintain your credibility.
As Madeleine Albright said, "Whatever job you are asked to do at whatever level, do a good job because your reputation is your resume."