12 Ways to Build Leadership Credibility

Leadership credibility is a pretty big deal. (Your line here: “Thanks, Captain Obvious.“)

And just so we’re all on the same page, given our recent emphasis on words meaning things, when we say credibility, we’re talking about the quality of someone being believable, worthy of trust, or dependable.

The thing with credibility, of course, is that it’s absolutely foundational if you’re to lead well. Once it’s been eroded, it’s nearly impossible to function as a leader, for reasons that should be fairly obvious. And fair or not, credibility takes a long time to build, but it can often be destroyed in just moments.

[bctt tweet=”Credibility takes a long time to establish, but just moments to destroy. #leadership”]

With those preliminary thoughts in mind, let’s think through some really practical things we can do as leaders to work on building, or continuing to build, or perhaps even rebuilding, credibility.

1. Build leadership credibility by being vulnerable.

I know, I know. I talk about this all the time. The reason I do that, though, is that it’s absolutely critical in my estimation. It’s a leadership non-negotiable. It’s a prerequisite to building trust and credibility. When leaders can show their teams that they’re willing to be vulnerable — when their teams see them being quick to demonstrate vulnerability regularly — it goes a long way toward building credibility. Let your team see you embracing your humanness and imperfection. Admit your mistakes and flaws. Laugh at yourself. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know something. Be a human being.

[bctt tweet=”Let your team see you embracing your humanness and imperfection. #leadership”]

2. Build leadership credibility by consistently demonstrating that your primary concern is the team, not yourself.

HUGE DISCLAIMER: Don’t fake this one. It’s pretty easy for teams to tell what’s most important to you. You can say you’re all about the team all you want, but if your actions and behaviors and attitudes indicate something else, they’re going to see it. And if you’re saying one thing, but your actions, behaviors, and attitudes are communicating something else; it’s actually incredibly counterproductive as it relates to building credibility. You’d be better served to just be openly self-centered and self-serving. At least that’d be authentic.

That being said, when a team sees that their leader is genuinely more concerned about them than anything else — including themselves — it’s quite meaningful. This is part of why servant leadership resonates the way it does with so many people. Like you, I’ve had bosses who were like this, and I’ve had bosses who were definitely not. I can tell you which ones were respected by their teams (the former) and which ones were the reason their teams dreaded coming to work every day (the latter).

3. Build leadership credibility by not giving people reasons to distrust you.

There are lots of things leaders can do to generate distrust, and most them aren’t what they’d call flat-out lying. But lies aren’t the only things that chip away at or obliterate credibility. Sometimes bosses will sow discord between teammates who report to them. For example, a teammate, speaking with his/her boss, will express some frustration with a situation that he/she is dealing with relating to another member of the team. Shortly after the conversation, the boss walks down the hall and tells the other teammate about it and so on. Well obviously, that erodes trust not only between the boss and that first teammate, but also between the teammates as well. And that’s just one of many examples we could use.

4. Build leadership credibility by knowing your stuff.

First, here’s what I’m not saying. I’m not saying you have to know everything about something. I’m also not saying you should act like you know everything about something. (See #1 above)

What I’m saying is that there’s an amount of credibility that you gain by knowing what you’re talking about in regards to this or that. For example, one of the smartest guys I know is a technology executive. Well, if I tried to do his job — if I tried to walk in to his team and become the CIO and lead his team — I wouldn’t have credibility with them. Why not? Because I’d have no stinking idea what I was talking about as it related to their complex technology initiatives.

5. Build leadership credibility by embracing true group accountability.

Leaders who see accountability as something they share with their teams build credibility because they’re not placing themselves above accountability. Accountability becomes a unifying thing that the team, including the leader, shares together. When a team sees that their leader is not only willing to be held accountable, but actually thinks group accountability is an important part of their team functioning well, that builds credibility and trust.

[bctt tweet=”Want more credibility with your team? Embrace more accountability with them. #leadership”]

6. Build leadership credibility by trusting your team.

When a team can see and feel that their leader trusts them, it builds credibility. When a team doesn’t feel trusted, however, it has the opposite effect. So not only should you trust your team, but you should also be sure that things you do and say aren’t communicating that you don’t. For example, if you and I came to an agreement that we were going to meet at noon, and I said I trusted you that you were, in fact, going to be there; but then every ten minutes I asked you or reminded you about our noon meeting, would you feel trusted? Probably not.

[bctt tweet=”Do your attitudes, behaviors, and actions communicate to your team that you trust them? #leadership”]

7. Build leadership credibility by thinking critically, especially about your own ideas.

Your team needs to see that you really think things through, and that you’re not just guided by ego or whatever new, shiny thing you happened to hear about at a conference. It’s especially important that they see you scrutinizing your own ideas, and not only that, but it’s also important that they see you inviting them to think critically about your ideas.

[bctt tweet=”Think critically, especially about your own ideas. #leadership”]

8. Build leadership credibility by humbly accepting criticism.

It’s not always easy to accept criticism, and you won’t get this right every time, but it’s so huge if your team knows and sees that you are open to criticism. It shows that you’re humble, and it encourages an environment of vulnerability on the team.

[bctt tweet=”Great leaders humbly accept criticism from others. #leadership”]

9. Build leadership credibility by being the first to take responsibility for team failures.

Poor leaders always flip-flop numbers 9 and 10. Poor leaders are quick to deflect blame to someone else when their team doesn’t execute as well as they were supposed to on this or that. They may point to a member of the team, or even the team as a whole; but rarely will poor leaders actually take the responsibility themselves. This is often because their ego won’t allow them to do so.

Great leaders are quick to take responsibility when the team doesn’t meet expectations. This builds credibility with the team.

[bctt tweet=”Great leaders are quick to take responsibility for team failures. #leadership”]

10. Build leadership credibility by being the last to take credit for team wins.

Again, this is where poor leaders get it wrong. Now, they may pay lip service to praising their teams, especially if others are around; but generally speaking, poor leaders — again, often because of that ego — are quick to take credit for what their teams do.

Great leaders are quick to point to their teams as the ones who made things happen.

[bctt tweet=”Great leaders are quick to credit their teams for successes. #leadership”]

11. Build leadership credibility by providing the rationale for your decisions as often as reasonable.

Now before some of you have a come-apart (I’m so glad my friend David Wilhelm introduced me to that phrase), I’m not saying that you have to provide a dissertation-length explanation for every single decision that you make within the scope of your leadership. However, especially in a collaborative environment, sometimes it’s helpful for your team to hear how you arrived at your decision. It builds credibility because even though they may not agree with your decision, they can see that you thought it through and considered other options.

12. Build leadership credibility by earning it, not demanding it.

Credibility isn’t something that’s given in response to a demand. It’s something that’s earned over time. In fact, I’d probably go so far as to say that if you’re demanding it, you probably don’t deserve it.

What’s the bottom line? We all want credibility, but what separates leaders who have it from leaders who don’t is their willingness to be humble and work hard to embrace the sorts of behaviors, attitudes, and mindsets described above.


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