How do we measure credibility? How do we gain it? What significance does it hold for a leader and mentor? Answers to these questions help us understand the dynamics of leadership credibility and how having this quality in our professional careers can make our paths easier.
The word credible originated in Latin from credere, which means “to believe.”1 To be trusted—and credible—we must possess a combination of qualities that lead others to have confidence in and respect for our philosophies, actions, and decisions. We can define and describe credibility in many ways. However, to find success in the leadership matrix, we must understand ourselves and grasp why we believe in something or someone.
Gauging Each Other
Deeming a person credible often depends on the eye of the beholder, which determines how we as individuals perceive the qualities and traits someone exudes. This “measuring stick” can prove inconsistent because our individual and sociological perceptions of a colleague derive simply from our internal philosophies, morals, or prejudices.
The way we see credibility also can vary according to the environment in which we operate, our personal encounters, and the experiences of others. Subconsciously, we constantly evaluate each other’s credibility; this holds true specifically between us and our leaders and mentors. This check-and-balance system helps us gauge the credibility of the people we follow or leave behind, ultimately validating our loyalties to those peers and leaders and our beliefs.
We gain credibility simply by earning it through tangible methods and conceptual beliefs. People typically establish it over time by remaining consistent in actions reinforced by what they believe and value. Maintaining a high ethical and moral foundation while challenging ourselves to be accountable and diligent—even during tests of our character and values—builds credibility.
Also, we must demonstrate expertise. When we reinforce our character traits with professional knowledge, we gain followers and supporters. The more knowledge achieved and used in practical application, the more credible colleagues will find our actions and directions.
And, building a credible foundation requires us to remain open, honest, and capable of expressing our thoughts clearly. Communication both upward and downward allows others to experience, gauge, and understand our mission and message. It allows us to emphasize what matters most and then let others make decisions based on our credibility.
Recognizing the Significance
We all know that credibility proves vital to our individual successes, as well as those of our unit, team, and agency. As leaders, our credibility will inspire others to follow our direction, work for a greater cause, and gain a deeper understanding of what expectations to meet.
Leadership credibility represents but one component of managing an operation or organization; however, without it, leading would be difficult and questioned. Earning and maintaining it is a daily goal achieved through our actions, words, and behaviors. Leaders will continually evaluate it throughout their careers, striving to increase their own and their colleagues’ credibility.
Most of us probably have walked into a backroom conversation where employees undermined or chastised a supervisor, manager, or leader or touted the individual as a failure. We should self-evaluate to ensure that we do not share similar traits and have such a conversation focus on us. These discussions may occur due to a leader’s character flaw, lack of understanding, poor decision, or possession of several undesirable traits.
Such factors, which help cause feelings of distrust and contempt, ultimately can lead to the lack or loss of credibility. Leaders cannot fail in their efforts to gain, establish, and maintain this important component of leadership. We must work to identify the problem by listening to the conversations, communicating our message using a different approach, and keeping our fingers on the pulse of the ever-changing dynamic between our objectives and the path to get there.
Adapting and Overcoming
If we fail, we must step back from the “daily grind” and look at our environment and ourselves from a balcony view. We can distance our emotions and perceptions and seek an elevated platform, gathering needed insight into the ideas and philosophies of those we guide and direct. Failing in leadership credibility allows us the opportunity to learn different and beneficial means to communicate, improve our delivery, and reestablish the traits and beliefs that allowed us to assume a leadership role.
Credibility is in the eye of the beholder. We must earn every bit of the credibility we have and continue to maintain it. This may involve a slippery slope, depending on the ever-changing climate we operate in. Honest self-evaluation, open communication, and belief in ourselves and those around us can lead to credibility.
Captain David Blanchard of the Alameda County, California, Sheriff’s Office prepared this Leadership Spotlight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 Merriam-Webster, s.v. “credible,” accessed January 6, 2017, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/credible.