Stephen Covey had a great concept that he called “the speed of trust.” A person’s credibility builds trust, and when you fully trust someone, it enables you to work with them much more efficiently and productively than if you’re constantly worrying about them and assessing their abilities. In short, trust is a positive business difference maker.
Just as credibility is a key component of trust, it’s a vital element of effective leadership. Know any widely respected business leaders (not counting a certain current president) who have major credibility issues? Conversely, when someone is viewed as highly credible, they’re seen as an asset, a valuable team player, someone you want to work with.
So how does one become fundamentally “credible”? I fully admit there are many ways to skin this cat, many building blocks that help construct this solid foundation. But from what I’ve observed over the course of a long management career, these are my top five.
Deliver results. OK, I admit this one may look like I just have a keen sense of the obvious. But it’s worth restating: Management is nothing if not a results-oriented endeavor. Whatever your level – from line supervisor to CEO – you have to be able to deliver the results your organization needs to gain credibility. No results, no credibility. Enough said.
Transparency. Early in my career when I was managing Employee Communications, I remember a conversation I had with the SVP of HR. I no longer recall the exact details we were discussing but I clearly recall his attitude. “You can’t tell employees that – that stuff is dynamite.” Yep, “dynamite” was the word used. It’s that kind of non-transparent thinking, treating employees as lesser beings incapable of understanding facts, that undermines credibility. This HR approach ignored two fundamental things: Plenty of employees are every bit as intelligent as their management and they spend a lot of time observing their management closely. Transparency matters, and there’s ample research supporting it. Want credibility? You’ve got to be straight with people or you’ll always be bucking the current, a trout swimming upstream.
Don’t duck tough decisions. It’s easy to manage when things are going great. Not so simple when you face tough decisions. I once worked with a CEO who couldn’t make a decision between two extremely capable internal successors and instead turned the job over to an external search firm. We ended up with someone from the outside who was far more problematic and ended up causing the company considerable disruption and harm. All because a top executive who was facing a very tough decision chose not to make it. Which is exactly what management is well compensated to do.
Show consistency in your behavior. Employees respond well to consistent behavior from their management. Unpredictability can be disturbing. In an uncertain world, people understandably like things they can depend on. If they can count on you, it means people believe what you say and you’re credible. Simple as that.
Lead by example. Again, this is basic but it’s often ignored and there’s no good alternative to it. If you don’t lead by example – if you “talk the walk but don’t walk the talk” – you’ll alienate more than motivate. As I noted earlier, employees watch their management closely. If they conclude management is playing by its own set of rules, it kills credibility. If they conclude management is “more Catholic than the Pope” (as the saying goes), it builds credibility.
Coming back to Mr. Covey’s initial point about the “speed of trust,” he liked to tell the story of a major acquisition that Warren Buffett’s company, Berkshire Hathaway, once made from Walmart. It was a $23 billion deal and under normal circumstances would have taken many months of serious mistrustful haggling. But in this instance, since both organizations were operating from a position of high credibility, the deal “was made with one two-hour meeting and a handshake,” Covey wrote. “In less than a month, it was completed. High trust, high speed, low cost.”
Always an invaluable leadership asset, credibility can do that for you.