Credibility: A Critical Foundation of Leadership

By Barry Pruitt

dateMon, Apr 14, 2014 @ 09:00 AM

“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 ItBook Kouzes Posner Credibility How Leaders Gain and Lose It,Why People Demand It

As I listened further to Jim speak last year, my mind wandered off on a search for the answer to the question "why do people believe in the messenger?”  When people 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.

Your rhythm of credibility stands on three legs: expertise, trustworthiness and integrity.


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


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?


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 employees, your team members, even peers - but, what are they really thinking?

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. As a certified presenter for Insight Inventory, EQ-i, and others, I’ve seen validation of the 360° assessment over and over. I’m reminded of one leader that told me exactly how his team would rank him on the scale of directness. With 1 being low and 10 being high, he told me with confidence that they would score him between 4-5 on average. He included comments on how he might need to be a bit more direct with his team. 

The results from his twelve team members was a perfect 10; they believed that he was as direct as he needed to be. Additionally, one member added a comment that he believed the leader to be a 12 on the 10 scale! This leader had no idea his impact on team members.  A 360° assessment can help you, too - if you can handle the truth.

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 or employees.

It takes courage for a leader to enter into this process. Like the leader in my story above, 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. To complete the story, the CEO in this story learned ways to be direct but less abrasive which led to positive support from the team. It also built his credibility. 

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

In this case, it’s time to become more visible in your 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. It's not enough to be the owner of the company. It carries no long-term weight that you are a serial entrepreneur. 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 your team. Show them you’re someone they can believe in.

I'm curious what assessments you use regularly and what your experience has been. Leave a comment below so we can all learn from your “education."

Transparently yours, Barry


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