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The pillars of credibility Published: Sunday, September 14, 2014 12:01 am By: Ramón L. Rivera, CEO

At the bottom line, it is credibility that provides the foundation of leadership. The effective practice of leadership involves a complex interplay of critically important elements.  For example, we cannot deny the importance of knowledge, organizational vision, mutual purpose, or the creation and maintenance of organizational culture to effective leadership. For people to join a particular direction on a sustained basis, they must perceive the leader as effective at those elements. However, the exercise of leadership starts at the personal dimension. A perception of effective leadership is not sufficient to lead. Leaders must be credible.

         Leadership is a process of influence dependent on relationships between people.  Without influence we cannot exercise leadership; because, when we lead, we attempt to have an effect on another person’s attitudes, beliefs, values, or behaviors.  This process of influence cannot occur without relationships between people that make that influence possible.  The relationships that we know as leadership are interactive, mutual and multi-directional.

         By credible, I mean the quality of being believable, dependable, and worthy of people’s trust and confidence in the long run. Credibility is how much people believe what you say, and it determines whether or not they are willing to join you. For long-lasting, real credibility, a leader demonstrates authenticity  (being genuine and sincere, not being fake) and keeps his/her word. Make no mistake, people can, and do, distinguish between the behaviors of individuals who are credible and those who are not.

         Leaders gain credibility when they build the trust and confidence of their constituents.  People trust their leaders only when they believe that the leader has the constituents’ interests at heart.  Leaders gain and maintain credibility when they demonstrate, by their actions, that they believe in and support their people.  In effective, modern organizations, leaders serve constituents and, together, they serve a mutual purpose.  To view their leader as credible, constituents need to know that the leader represents their values and needs and meets their standards.

         There are two ways to establish credibility. First, a leader must demonstrate competence. She/He must be capable and well qualified to do what needs to be done. People want to work with a person who can get the job done and who demonstrates the ability to lead.  In short, leaders must have knowledge, skills and abilities to perform their jobs and live-up to their responsibilities. Basic competence is demonstrated by having a sound understanding of the environment, by setting a clear direction, by identifying and using resources, by planning and managing projects and by assuring the expected results. If you are unable to do these things in the workplace, you will not be considered a competent leader.

         A second way to establish credibility is acting with character and integrity.  Leaders earn and strengthen credibility when they know their values, and have the skills and confidence necessary to act in ways consistent with those values.  A leader loses credibility when their actions appear inconsistent with their words.  Under these circumstances, honesty comes into question, trust is broken, and we know that trust is essential to credibility and leadership. We know that honesty and trustworthiness are essential to leadership. People willingly follow only those people who they believe are worthy of their trust.

         Let’s face it; sometimes our view of a leadership relationship may not closely reflect the reality of the situation.  For example, we know that people, when they believe in their leader, tend to link positive events with the leader’s behaviors and influence.   However, eventually perception must match reality.  The leader has to deliver, and their behavior must match their image over the long-term.  Eventually, constituents ask, “What is really going-on around here?”  People want to know that they are actually making progress toward the leader’s intent and the organization’s vision and desired culture.

         Leaders enhance their credibility when they distribute leadership throughout the organization, empower people to act, and invest in building the competence of others. Credible leaders create conditions that build and reinforce people’s confidence, create a sense of effectiveness, and encourage performance.  A good leader helps and enables constituents to develop judgment and initiative, grow and become better contributors, succeed without strong leadership, play interdependence and become leaders themselves.

         Leadership is a process of influencing relationships among people and accordingly, leaders achieve credibility through human contact.  Credible leaders interact with people, listen and communicate.  By listening to constituents, leaders maintain situation awareness, receive important information, know what’s going on, and stay in touch with critical feedback.    I contend that credibility - that quality of being believable, dependable, and worthy of people’s trust and confidence - provides the foundation of leadership.  People want leaders who are honest, forward-looking, inspiring and competent – in other words, personally credible.

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