“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
-John Quincy Adams
Leadership guru Lolly Daskal says “credibility is, in a way, a higher bar than success. It means others look at you as a reliable resource and decision maker. It allows those who rely on you to know they can count on you, trust you, do business with you, and align with you.”
As you build toward your C-Level career, nothing is more important than credibility. It enables the space for a bit of trial and (more importantly) error; it facilitates a genuine dialogue when you need to have one; it delivers the air cover that your team needs to operate efficiently. It defines who you are inside your current organization, and it supports your currency going into the market.
Another way to think of credibility is character. Think of your C-Level character as a step ladder; if all four legs are solid, you can climb the ladder as high as you want, but if one of the legs is wobbly your ladder may not get you to the top.
Let’s start with your brand. Are you seen as a reliable resource and decision maker? What does it take for others to know they can count on you, trust you, do business with you, and align with you?
- Show respect and loyalty for your team. It will be apparent if your loyalty and affinity is more toward the corner office than the folks on your shop floor. Look out for your people.
- Be competent. That doesn’t mean you have to get every decision right, but you do need to put in the work to get it right when it counts. Keep track of where the waves are washing up pebbles on the beach – if most of your pebbles are washing up on the side of incomplete staff work or questionable judgement, your leadership brand will suffer.
- Be accountable. Own your errors. If you don’t know, say so. Commit to getting the answers. No matter how tempting, don’t play the blame game – be hard on the problem not the people.
- Remember that titles are given, but respect is earned.
Next comes authenticity. If your brand is who you are, then authenticity is how you demonstrate that brand to others. It demands knowing and staying true to your own boundaries. When you are faced with the inevitable push back on strategy or resources, it is critically important that this leg of your step ladder be solid. For example, if you genuinely practice straight talk on the little things, you set yourself up for when you need to be equally direct on a bigger issue.
Consistency is the when part of credibility – you will only have credibility if your brand and authenticity shine through in everything that you do. As with authenticity, consistency may not always be easy. There will be lots of times when, in retrospect, you would take a do-over on your message or actions. We are all human, so the best that you can do is make note and let it give you cause to pause the next time you need to deal that issue or person. Become a student of your own foibles, and consciously decide where you need to invest the effort.
Finally, the how part of credibility is to be a mentor. This doesn’t mean having coffee with a few select high-potential candidates once a quarter. It means proactively and consistently reaching down to bring others up. It means listening to those junior to you and taking the opportunities to both teach and to learn. Specific things to model the behaviour on include:
- When to speak up and when to be silent. There is power in knowing not to talk for the sake of hearing your own voice. Demonstrate a commitment to making sure that what you have to say is timely, relevant to where the discussion is at that moment, and cogent in terms of the discussion being had. Take the time offline after a meeting to mentor your team about less helpful interjections that you observe.
- How to be prepared and fact-based. Model an expectation that meetings will have an agenda, and that participants will have done their preparation to contribute to the meeting’s success. Be overt and timely giving feedback to people who don’t meet this expectation.
- Why you handle situations as you do, including talking to your key lieutenants about meeting strategies. For example, if your intent in a meeting is to shine a light on a process gap you might schedule a meeting to walk through the process and enable a journey of discovery for the group. By discussing your strategy in advance with your team, they will know to actively contribute with both information and questions to move the discovery along. If they don’t know your intent, they might feel they need to apportion the gaps or own the issues. Make it easy for them to be part of the success.
Beware of articles that focus on superficial notions of career credibility. Some people measure credibility by whether a role reports to the CEO, or whether they will be in a position to hobnob with vendor executives. There is a difference between having credibility and the appearance of credibility – decide what you want your brand to be and focus your energy on being seen by your team as authentically and consistently that person. That will reflect the respect and profile you need to be trusted in the corner office.
“Credibility is your best currency; with it you are solvent without you are bankrupt.”
– Lolly Daskal