Five Steps to Build Credibility:
Shed the Superman Cape
By David Benzel
Superman is a super hero due to his
many powers. However, even with all of his strengths, Superman has a
vulnerability – Kryptonite – therefore, he is not perfect. He has a
flaw. And in spite of this weakness, Superman’s credibility is
The greatest temptation managers face
today is a desire to appear a “Superman” to their followers;
perceived as perfect, flawless, impenetrable, and invincible.
Perhaps managers even wonder, “Why would anyone trust and follow me
if I’m flawed and vulnerable?”
Consequently managers and supervisors
get caught up in a game of being right, and if not right, act
as if they’re right anyway. This is reminiscent of parents who
might not know why they’ve just given a command or punishment to
their children, but feel comfortable with, “Because I said so” as
the ultimate answer to save face. The irony is that followers at
work – just like children at home – know that their leaders aren’t
seven-foot-tall and bullet proof. The attempts to create the
illusion of perfection, just distracts and takes away from whatever
credibility was there in the first place.
Credibility is the key ingredient in
leadership. The Latin root word is “credo,” which means “I believe”
or “I trust.” Credibility, like credit from a bank, is given to
those who are trusted. Therefore credibility is given to leaders
whom the followers find believable. If you’re not believable, nor
trusted to represent yourself honestly, you will have little
credibility with your followers. It may be the biggest paradox in
leadership; knowledge is honored, while pretending to have knowledge
How to Build Credibility without
Being Bullet Proof: The answer to the paradox is found in being
real, or authentic. Leaders have several key opportunities to
demonstrate their genuineness.
1) Honor others, let others
honor you. Shining a light on the accomplishments of others has
many benefits. It provides reinforcement of the behaviors you want
to see in the organization. It boosts morale by sending a message
of success for all to see. It also teaches the habit of honoring
to everyone. The tricky thing about honoring is that you can’t
successfully do it to yourself! Others must do the honoring, or it
isn’t honoring … it’s boasting and self-promotion. If leaders spend
time trying to honor themselves, they create a climate where it’s
accepted. Soon others will duplicate the practice of slapping their
own backs. When leaders sincerely edify those around them, they
themselves are elevated in the minds of the followers as trustworthy
2) Become a learner, not a judge.
Asking good questions may be the single most significant skill for a
leader to learn. Somewhere in the development of most leaders a
strange thing happens at almost exactly the same moment as the
arrival of a promotion. A mental switch is thrown and what was an
intelligent question-asking human being becomes an answer-telling
machine; all-knowing, all-seeing and certain-of-everything. It’s as
if any hesitation or inquiry indicates incompetence, and that’s
unthinkable for the one in charge. Every situation in the workplace
presents a leader with two options: 1) Jump to a conclusion and
judgment, or 2) Ask a question to learn more. Credible leaders are
learners who ask, listen and then decide.
3) State conclusions
tentatively. After gathering information and processing that
data, it would seem natural for a leader to just blurt out the
answer and give the command. “I’ve made up my mind, so go do it”
would seem to make sense. However, leaders who trust the opinions
of followers will use a different delivery strategy. Stating your
conclusions tentatively means leaving a door open for other unknown
facts or opinions to find the light of day. If a leader overstates
a position it leaves no room for other positions except through
confrontation with the boss! What would followers dare say in
response to, “Well, this is absolutely the way to go on this and
there is certainly no other way.” However, if you said, “The data
I’ve seen has me leaning toward this option unless there’s something
I’m not aware of,” your credibility is enhanced by your openness to
feedback from others.
4) Admit not knowing the answers.
Since no one has all the answers or all the information, admitting
that you don’t know an answer does not make you incompetent. Making
up incorrect answers just to appear smart will most often backfire.
Wise leaders are eager to seek out information through their many
resources. Being resourceful is the sign of a competent leader.
Knowing how and where to get answers is more valuable and beneficial
for the organization. “I don’t have that answer yet, but I know
where to go looking for it” is an important phrase for leaders to
demonstrate and followers to learn.
5) Apologize for mistakes or
poor judgments. Have you ever noticed the look of relief – and
maybe surprise – on a child’s face when an adult apologizes for a
mistake or showing poor judgment? Followers may have the same
surprise at first. But once they learn that you are a leader who
takes personal responsibility for your decisions – especially if
that includes an apology – your credibility soars. It takes
strength and courage to admit mistakes to peers and followers, but
the end result is stronger relationships.
Leaders shed their Superman cape when
they exhibit authenticity in each of these five key areas. The
illusion of perfection fades away, and in its place is the image of
a leader who is aware of the true human condition – flawed and
vulnerable, but ready to learn lessons and move on. If you were the
follower, which kind of leader would you choose to follow?
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