Often the daily breaking news reveals people around the world who have lost their personal and professional credibility. Credibility, or trustworthiness, is preciously built over a lifetime and sometimes destroyed by a single event. Recently, the list of fallen leaders has included senators, congressmen, prime ministers, governors, presidents, ambassadors, commissioners, doctors, lawyers, teachers, clergy, athletes, business leaders, co-workers and clients. How does this happen?
In their 2007 book, The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner state that credibility is simply “doing what you said you will do.” Sounds simple, but given the vast numbers of the fallen, it may be harder than it appears. Emotional Intelligence, as represented in Becoming a Resonant Leader by Annie McKee, Richard Boyatzis and Fran Johnston, identifies competencies divided into four quadrants: Self Awareness, Self Management, Social Awareness and Relationship Management.
The foundation of emotional intelligence is self-awareness. Perhaps these fallen heroes failed to be aware of their emotions and their impact on others? Under pressure or amidst ambiguity, is it possible they lost sight of what values were most important to them?
As Albert Camus once said, “A life is the sum of all your choices.”
Those choices are represented in how we do or don’t live out our values. Values control our actions and often are what accounts for what we say we will do. So does the breakdown happen in execution or is it that the values weren’t core to the person who espoused them?
Take a few minutes today to ask yourself: What are my values? Are they aligned with the choices I want to make—for my family, my organization, my friends? Do I really believe them? And finally, do I act on them consistently?
If you aren’t sure how to answer these, check with some people you trust. Do they see alignment between what you say and do? Can they articulate what they think your values are? Do they match your sense of your own values?
Milgram’s research on culture suggest that some cultures assume that one has credibility solely due to his or her title, position, qualifications, certifications or academic degrees. Other cultures believe credibility must be earned. Personally, I assume a person is credible until proven otherwise.
Because rebuilding credibility takes not days or weeks, but years, and because it can be lost in an instant, taking the time to ensure alignment by talking to a few of the people around you is about the best ROI on an hour or so that you could ever get. It’s a choice.