Credibility Is Priceless

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.

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3 Responses to Credibility Is Priceless

  1. Alan Arnett says:

    Hi Suzanne – interesting piece, and it got me thinking … :-)

    Over the years I’ve encountered many people, leaders included, who don’t think about credibility at all – they say (and act as if) they don’t care if people trust them, they just want people to get on and do what’s needed. (do as they are told). And equally, I’ve met lots of people who think their values aren’t useful, or maybe even aren’t allowed, at work.

    They think credibility is about alignment between what they think they have to say and what they think they have to do, and the ‘values’ that are acted out every day by their boss – as if none of us have personal choice to say, do, and value what matters to us, and as if no-one will notice our lack of belief or authenticity in what they do.

    Bizarrely, I’ve worked with few organizations over the years where, if you can get people to talk openly, they will admit “I don’t like it, but that’s the way you have to operate around here”. Except everyone says it. And when I ask “who says?”, no-one can point to anyone who is making them operate that way. And if they do, when I talk to them they say its “just the way things are” as well.

    Its so prevalent across different organizations it can’t be a factor of individual leaders or cultures. So where does this belief that you have to leave your self at home when you go to work come from?


    • Laurie says:

      Hi! Alan,

      You have interesting experiences and insights.
      I don’t believe that you have to leave yourself at home when you go to work. I truly believe that if you align your personal values to your work values everyone wins. Working in an organization that is against your values can cause confusion, stress and burnout.

      If credibility is simply”doing what you said that you said you would do”, we should simply keep our promises :)


  2. Fran says:

    I bet you, Alan, are a man who personally values congruence between word and action, and integration between ones’ values and expression in work life. In fact, I know this to be true of you. To answer your question, I think we have hit a dip in the long road of leadership in business and life, where we have regressed to a point of thinking I can’t live my values at work, so I will once again, go back to thinking that I must be two people — me at home and me at work. This could be a result of stress, as we know when people are very stressed their perception narrows, they feel they have fewer choices, and they — we — become more suspicious. This narrowed neurological state often is distorted — meaning we really could live more of our values, we do have more degrees of freedom for integrated behavior… if only we can breathe and feel we are in relatively safe relationships. To self express authentically and strategically is an act of leadership in today’s organizations. Sadly so for many people who are caught in organizations where stress is so prevalent that any authentic disagreement begins to feel like career suicide. What to do? Know your limits — know when staying silent is worse than speaking up; read your environment and build resonant relationships. All the best, Fran

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