Credibility: the quality of being worthy of belief and trust
Credibility, which flows from character and competence, is one of the most essential aspects of leadership. High credibility is a tremendous asset for leaders seeking to achieve exceptional performance and positive impacts. Low credibility is devastating.
Credible leaders are straight with people, even about hard topics. They walk the talk and practice what they preach. They do what they say they will do and follow through on promises.
Think about what you have wanted from your leaders, parents, teachers, and coaches over the years. Think of the impact that credible leaders have had on your life. Think of the kind of leader you would want your children or best friend to work for.
Leadership scholars James Kouzes and Barry Posner, authors of the best-selling classic, The Leadership Challenge, have been surveying people around the world for decades on the “Characteristics of Admired Leaders.” More than 100,000 people worldwide have responded, and the findings are powerful and surprisingly consistent across nations:
“In every survey we’ve conducted, honesty is selected more often than any other leadership characteristic. Overall, it emerges as the single most important factor in the leader-constituent relationship…. First and foremost, people want a leader who is honest….
“…people want to follow leaders who, more than anything, are credible. Credibility is the foundation of leadership. People must be able, above all else, to believe in their leaders. To willingly follow them, people must believe that the leaders’ word can be trusted.”
-James Kouzes and Barry Posner, The Leadership Challenge
According to their research, when people perceive their manager to have high credibility, they are significantly more likely to:
- Be proud to tell others they’re part of the organization
- Feel a strong sense of team spirit
- See their own personal values as consistent with those of the organization
- Feel attached and committed to the organization
- Have a sense of ownership of the organization
When they perceive their manager to have low credibility, they are significantly more likely to:
- Produce only if carefully watched
- Be motivated primarily by money
- Say good things about the organization publicly but criticize it privately
- Consider looking for another job if the organization experiences problems
- Feel unsupported and unappreciated
That leads them to the Kouzes-Posner 1st Law of Leadership:
“If you don’t believe in the messenger, you won’t believe the message.”
And then to the Kouzes-Posner 2nd Law of Leadership:
DWYSYWD: “Do what you say you will do.”
Today we all face grave challenges, from the pandemic and economic crisis, with all their stresses and pressures, to competitive and technological disruption. Now more than ever we need credible leaders worthy of our belief and trust.
“Credibility is a leader’s currency. With it, he or she is solvent; without it, he or she is bankrupt.” -John C. Maxwell
More Articles from Our Series on Ethical Leadership
- The Root Cause of Ethical Failings
- Leadership and the Ethics Imperative
- The Importance of Integrity in Leadership
- The Importance of Trust in Leadership
- The Problem of Bad Leaders—and Why People Keep Following Them
Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, speaker, and facilitator on life design and leadership. He runs Gregg Vanourek LLC, a training and development venture. Gregg is co-author of three books, including Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards) and LIFE Entrepreneurs (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose and passion). Check out Gregg’s manifesto on Leadership Derailers (and how to avoid them).