- Bert was an external hire with an impressive resume showing how he managed a team of individual contributors.
- Wanting to make a good impression, in his first few team meetings, Bert tried hard to befriend the team, using humor and self-deprecating comments to appeal to them. Things started off great.
- After a month on the job, the team started seeing inconsistencies with what Bert had on his LinkedIn profile and how he verbally described his experience.
- The team started asking him questions about how he handled situations in his last job, but many of Bert’s answers were evasive and vague.
- Bert missed a crucial deadline from his boss Eva. He never notified her that he would miss the deadline and she had to press him for the status.
- Bert’s interaction with his team became less frequent and more evasive.
- Eva grew increasingly concerned with Bert’s lack of credibility and started having skip level discussions with Bert’s team.
- After three months of giving Bert an opportunity to establish credibility, Eva acknowledged that she made a mistake in hiring Bert. He was moved to an individual contributor role to give him a chance to turn things around.
- Bert was eventually terminated, having never gotten over the credibility hump.
- Five years later, one of Bert’s former team members was a manager at a new company. Bert’s resume came across her desk. “No way,” she thought as she moved on to the next resume.
Earlier in my career, I attributed credibility primarily to what I knew and how I could demonstrate my knowledge to those around me. As I experienced the hard knocks of becoming a leader, I came to realize that my knowledge was only a small part of building my credibility. Having sustainable credibility as a leader means:
- Knowing what you are expected to know and admitting when you don’t know something
- Walking the credibility talk with customers, colleagues, leaders, and followers
- Delivering what you say when you say it will be delivered
As a scaled-up leader, you’ll be assessing the credibility of your followers to ensure they can drive results. This means you have internalized what makes a person credible. Internalizing the credibility characteristics means you practice them yourself. Assessing the credibility of others when you yourself have credibility issues is like the person who lives in a glass house throwing stones at others. Leaders are expected to be sustainably credible if they want to be followed.
Need to work on your credibility? See which of these 12 tips might help you get over the credibility hump:
- Match actions to words – There’s a reason this is first on the list. People watch what you do and listen to what you say. If there’s a mismatch, your actions will be believed over your words. This is a huge credibility killer. Always ensure words match actions.
- If you don’t know something, say so – It’s cringing to watch someone be evasive or try to guess their way through an unfamiliar topic. If you don’t know something, say, “I don’t know, but here’s when I’ll follow up with the answer.”
- Think and act “win-win” with colleagues – Colleagues want to trust you. If you look at your interactions as, “for me to win you have to lose,” then others will view you as untrustworthy regardless of your command of the subject matter.
- Don’t position yourself as least-worst – There are times, like competing for a job, when you do want to win over colleagues. Winning doesn’t mean berating others to make yourself look better—that says, “I may be bad, but he’s worse.” By all means, note bad behavior when you see it; just don’t use it to make yourself look good.
- Don’t oversell what you know or what you’ve done – I’ve seen many resumes where someone has oversold themselves, but when talking with them I saw a cavernous gap between reality and resume. Be accurate in what you know, what you’ve done, and results you’ve delivered.
- Don’t confuse credibility with charisma – Great leaders typically possess charisma that enhances their credibility. Not-so-great leaders rely on charisma to cover up credibility gaps. Charisma is great, but don’t let it take the place of credibility. You’ll get found out over time.
- Don’t let a due date silently slip by – Being credible means you do what you say, when you say you’ll do it. Going silent on an expected action raises questions about whether you’ll do what you said. Don’t underestimate this trait; it’s crucial not only for you to do but also for you to hold others accountable when they promise something by a certain date.
- Explain the why – As a leader, followers want to know the rationale behind your thinking, particularly when you’re making a potentially unpopular decision. Get used to asking yourself why you’re taking a particular action, even if you don’t have to explain it to others. Building this habit will be helpful when you have to expose your decision rationale to others.
- Be the same persona all the time – Are you an in-person Jekyll and a social media Hyde? While you may think it’s safe to express yourself freely online, colleagues, customers and followers will see your online comments and extrapolate them to predict how they may be treated by you. Don’t think for a minute you can keep your personas separate.
- Admit it when you’re wrong – Credible people not only freely admit when they’re wrong about something, but they can learn from it. Mistakes are going to happen; those who can’t admit it or make the same mistake over and over again never get over the credibility hump.
- Plan and deliver results realistically – At the end of the day, credible people plan and deliver results based on reality. Note I’m not using the “under-commit-and-over-deliver” baloney mantra that weak leaders use. Plan to reality, manage risks and issues, ask for help when necessary, and deliver.
- Don’t undercut your own credibility – Poking a bit of fun at yourself or admitting shortcomings are good signs of a confident leader. However, when overdone you could inadvertently convince others you might not have the credibility to be followed. If it looks like you’re not confident in your own ability, why would others view you as confident?
The Consequences: By not taking intentional action to build your credibility, your consequences could include:
- You won’t be believed – No amount of words can make a non-credible person credible. Colleagues, customers and followers simply won’t believe what you have to say.
- Your opportunities will be limited – A leader won’t give you a big problem to solve if they don’t think you have the credibility to solve it.
- Your non-credibility ghosts will follow you – Simply put, people have very long memories, particularly when those who are expected to be credible fall short. Today’s colleague or follower could be tomorrow’s potential customer or boss.
The Next Steps:
- Look through the 12 tips and decide on your three greatest opportunity areas.
- Review your assessment with a trusted advisor who is willing to tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.
- Commit to being held accountable by your advisor.
- Put actions in place to address your top three.
- Review your progress with your advisor.
- After you’ve put new habits in place to address your top three, pick the next three, and so on.