Leadership and the Credibility Factor

What does credibility mean to you?  Here’s my take on it and why I think it’s an important quality for leaders to develop, not just in effecting change initiatives but in everything else they do.


I’ve been thinking about change lately, mostly about what it is that separates a person who seems to be able to influence change in a positive direction, from a person who might have the authority and the technical skill to do the work, but seems unable to pull it off.

The word credibility comes to mind.  The Thesaurus suggests that credibility is synonymous with trustworthiness, integrity and sincerity. I think that if these basic values are present, the chances of arousing the interest and respect of other people are pretty good. And, I believe too, that change agents come in many forms, manifest themselves in a variety of ways and at a variety of levels.

Thinking about that reinforces for me, the notion that it is credibility not title, position, role or authority that makes the difference between an effective change agent and an ineffective one.

So, if you are with me so far, the big question seems to be ” How do I prove my credibility to others?”

Here’s what I think it takes to earn credibility:

I do what I say I’m going to do… and I do it, when I say I’m going to do it.

Reliability is an important ingredient in establishing credibility.

There’s nothing more infuriating or counter-productive, than when someone makes a commitment to do something and then fails to follow through.

I represent myself honestly and do my best to be candid and open with my colleagues and bosses.

I think that to gain credibility with others we must simply find the courage and confidence to be ourselves and make our contributions without pretense or bravado.

I show that I’m open to learning and trying new things

Nothing puts holes in our credibility more than conveying the impression that we have all the answers. And, it is arrogant to think that we can influence change in others without feeling the need to change something in ourselves as well.

After all, change is a learning experience in itself. If we believe that it is for everyone but us, we are likely not asking the right questions, enough questions, or paying attention to what is going on around us.

I demonstrate respect for the experiences and knowledge of others.

One of the best ways to build credibility is to observe those who have gone before us and learn from their experiences.  If we want to be heard we must first listen.

When I challenge the status quo, I offer feasible and thoughtful alternatives.

To me, presenting a problem without considering a solution is not supporting change.  It is simply complaining.  This doesn’t mean that we have to have a solution for every problem.  But if we want to earn credibility, we have to consider not only the problem, but also the possibilities and questions that will stimulate further exploration.

I own up to being human and making mistakes. And, when I make mistakes, I apologize and then do my best to make amends.

Making excuses for the mistakes we make is simply unproductive and, well, not very attractive either. In general, we do not adversely affect our credibility when we make mistakes. We adversely affect our credibility when we try to cover them up, rationalize them away, blame them on someone else or otherwise pretend  they didn’t happen.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?



Filed under Building Relationships, Change Management, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Values, Leading Change

13 responses to “Leadership and the Credibility Factor

  1. Dear Gwyn,
    Love your posts! (and so does my wife!).

    Can a leader who loses significant credibility with his employees, friends, or family ever regain it? Are there steps that you suggest taking to get your credibility train back on track?


    • Larry, your question to Gwyn hit a chord with me. What I have learned is that each of the areas you mentioned, employees, friends, family – are all different arenas of our life. Losing credibility in one does not necessarily mean you’ve lost it in the others, however credibility and trust are strongly tied together and once lost it is difficult to regain. We can not go back in time and change events, as much as we would like to and you can’t live in the past – even when the loss is with family, we have to move on – accept the fact that the trust has been breached and commit to living a responsible/trustworthy life. You can not control the reactions of others but I do believe that time will heal most wounds.

      • Carl,

        Good morning.
        Thank you so much for such an insightful comment. I agree wholeheartedly with you about never making the same mistake twice, although I’ve been guilty of making the trust/credibility mistake twice.

        Fortunately, it’s two and out.


    • In todays emerging social business world, “forgiveness” is as important as the loss of credibility.
      It obviously depends on the context of what the leader does to see if their trust, credibility & relationship capital (RC) can be regained & earned back with his or her stakeholders.
      Envisioning a hyper-connected & transparent world based on open-standards. Where even leaders whose trustworthiness has been questioned, are given the opportunity to earn back their relationship capital (RC) through observable kept-commitments and positive perceptions from his or her stakeholders.

  2. Gwyn, thank you again for sharing – your insights and reflections are always refreshing to read.
    I especially connected with your last comment about mistakes. Errors in judgment are bound to happen – owning them, addressing them, and moving on become the essence of growth. I make myself a commitment to never make the same mistake twice. 🙂
    Best regards,

  3. T Thomas

    Hi Gwyn – This post seems to be a good one to tie in with Easter week. I agree with your ideas and appreciate Larry’s and Carl’s questions and insight. I think that when you lose credibility with someone, at work or at home, you have to be willing to seek forgiveness, and you need to be able to grant forgiveness. It is very easy to lose credibility with someone and not even realize it. (and of course, I usually think I’m right! I haven’t learned as well as Carl to keep from repeating the same mistakes). So, your comments in the middle about being the change agent resonated with me. It is so easy to think that others should change without realizing how we ourselves can change and produce that positive ripple effect.
    It’s a challenge to combine these thoughts and attitudes at work when we are told we should have a “thick skin” and tough decisions need to be made
    I’m interested in your response to Larry’s questions about re-gaining credibility and my thoughts about being able to be tough and tender.
    Enjoy this week!

  4. Gwyn Teatro

    Larry, Carl, Terry & Rob~ I have been enjoying this discussion and frankly have felt no need to interject because you each have added a measure of wisdom that required no further “pearls” from me. Thank you for that.
    Having said that, I have to ‘fess up and say that I have been arrogant enough to make the same mistake more than once and expect a different outcome. I hope I have finally learned my lesson on that score.
    Larry, I have been thinking about your questions too. I think once we lose someone’s trust and our own credibility as a result, we also lose the right to control the extent to which we are forgiven or the length of time it takes to get the ‘train back on the track,’ as you so succinctly put it. It begins with an apology and is strengthened by ensuing actions consistent with the contrition we express and a commitment to new and different behaviour. Beyond that, I think it’s about letting go of the notion that we have any more influence over the outcome than that. In my experience there are times when we have to learn to live with not being viewed or esteemed in quite the same way as before. The positive aspect of that is that it tends to keep us humble. And, humility in leadership, as in life, is a valuable thing.
    Finally, to Terry’s point about seeking and granting forgiveness, I think we also have to find ways to forgive ourselves too. Perhaps getting the train back on the credibility track begins with that. Otherwise attempts to persuade others that we are worthy of a second chance are likely to be subject to doubt.
    Thank you all for engaging with each other and me and for taking the time to do so.

  5. Gwyn, Carl, Terry & Rob,
    Your comments have been enlightening and very helpful for me.
    A great start is a real apology…Accepting responsibility, and not repeating the same mistake.

    I recently overheard my wife answering a question posed by an interviewer. The question was, “What was your best mistake.” After pause, my wife’s reply was “My best mistakes are the ones I learn from.” [I’ve never heard ‘best’ and ‘mistake’ combined in a sentence].

    Great discussion.

  6. Gwyn – excellent post. A post in a similar vein comes from Tom Schimmer (www.tomschimmer.com) entitled “…and don’t be afraid to follow” (the first in the series is “Don’t be afraid to lead…”). He discusses how ego can be a leader’s downfall and the importance of striking the balance between “arrogance and despair.” Thank you.


    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Eric ~ Thank you! I will look up Tom’s web site. I like the notion of finding balance between “arrogance and despair” too. I expect it’s harder to say than to do…like most everything else 🙂

  7. T Thomas

    To Gwyn and her Gang of readers,
    Thank you all for the thought-provoking questions and replies. I wanted to share some of the ideas I learned while reflecting on these comments. Even though credibility seems based on external factors, i.e., titles, awards, appearances, etc., true credibility is based on internal values, i.e. honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, etc.
    I even gained insight into my own tough and tender dilemma. Failures become soft on the outside (influenced by external factors) and tough on the inside (bitter, withdrawn, hollow). Successes develop tough exteriors (shields, shells, smiles : ) yet stay tender at heart, (caring, compassionate).
    Even though this is an electronic discussion, it has affected me in a personal and person-able way…positively!
    Thank ya’ll

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Terry~ Your comment reminds me that credentials do not always equal credibility. It is sometimes a hard distinction to make. Thank you for that and for your thoughtful contribution to the conversations we have here.

  8. Pingback: Leadership and the Credibility Factor | digitalNow | Scoop.it

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