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spike bullet September 2013 ~ Credibility

Characteristics of Admired Leaders 
Case Studies 
Credibility Gained and Lost
Tips for looking at your own credibility
Resources (links, books, articles, the lighter side)
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color bulletSeptember 2013 ~ Credibility

What is "credibility"?  I don't understand what that means. 

That question was asked by a local city official after many people in a public meeting questioned the decisions being made by the local city council and someone mentioned the word "credibility." 

James Kouzes and Barry Posner tackled the topic of credibility in their best-selling book, Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It, originally published in 1993, with an updated version in 2011.

Characteristics of Admired Leaders

The results of what people surveyed feel are the most important traits of leaders were compiled into a table in the book called the Characteristics of Admired Leaders:

  1. Honest   87%
  2. Forward-looking   71%
  3. Inspiring   68%
  4. Competent   58%
  5. Fair-minded   49%
  6. Supportive   46%
  7. Broad-minded   41%
  8. Intelligent   38%
  9. Straightforward   34%
  10. Courageous   33%
  11. Dependable  32%
  12. Cooperative   30%
  13. Imaginative   28%
  14. Caring   27%
  15. Mature   14%
  16. Determined   13%
  17. Ambitious   10%
  18. Loyal   10%
  19. Self-controlled   5%
  20. Independent   5%

Honesty stands out clearly as the most important attribute.

Edward R Murrow described credibility this way: 
To be persuasive, we must be believable;  To be believable, we must be credible;  To be credible, we must be truthful.

For public officials at all levels, credibility must be earned through gaining the trust of the public they serve and credibility must be constantly maintained.  When trust in leaders is lost, we can have revolt, rebellion and sometimes war.

Business leaders must have credibility with their employees, customers and business partners.  Without credibility and cooperation, businesses cannot succeed.  No one can do it all alone.

The history of our country is filled with stories of citizens who left their homelands to come to the shores of a new country to start over.  Our democratic form of government was designed and built to give citizens ways of providing feedback about decisions made by government officials and to provide ways of holding public officials to a high standard of behavior.

We have the right to vote for public officials at all levels in this country.  We have representation at various levels of government and we have the ability to recall public officials who lose the trust of those who voted for them.

We have a court system set up to allow for redress of our grievances and the right to appeal certain decisions all the way to the highest courts in our country, if needed.

Case Studies

Some recent case studies where credibility is at stake:

Case study #1.  A developer submitted a plan that would violate existing open space plans that had been developed over a period of many years to protect delicate natural areas.  The developer's proposal went to the county governing body and was approved over citizen protests and many signed petitions asking that the project as proposed be denied because it violates the master plans for the area.  The area in question is part of the national forest and a very sparsely developed area.

Result:  Citizens filed a lawsuit and the case went to trial.  The judge issued an order that the developer and the county governing body must follow the master plans already in place.  They cannot arbitrarily bypass those plans.

Credibility:  The county governing body has lost much credibility over this issue now leading to mistrust of their other decisions.

Case study #2.  A developer submitted a proposal that would require rezoning a section of an existing commercial area to a residential area and contained design elements that are not currently allowed in existing city zoning rules.  The proposal was recommended for denial by the planning board until the plan conformed to the city’s existing zoning guidelines.  The developer went to the city council and claimed that they met all the city’s requirements and, therefore, the project should be approved over the recommendation for denial by the planning board.  Several misrepresentation of facts were documented in the developer’s testimony in public hearings at the planning board and the city council.  The city council ignored those concerns, approved the rezoning and approved the project to go forward.

Result:  Citizens are now holding public protests, writing articles and Internet blogs against the project and circulating petitions to overturn the city council’s decision.

Credibility:  The city council has lost tremendous credibility over this issue as they did not listen to their planning board and did not seem to care whether the developer was telling the truth or not.  The public video-taped meetings show strong disagreement between the council members who believe the project was not appropriate as proposed and those who voted to approve it.  Citizens want their leaders to behave appropriately and to be able to work together.  When they can’t do that, a great amount of credibility is lost.  The council members who publicly spoke out about the misrepresentations, gained credibility.  Those council members who voted to approve in spite of concerns, lost credibility.  The entire body also lost credibility since they cannot work well together.

Case study #3.  A developer built a large number of homes about 20 years ago and went bankrupt before finishing the project.  Now, they are back in business and want to develop another area adjacent to the original project.  There have been many public meetings and the developer started out with a lack of credibility and judged to be unreliable due to past behavior.  Many of their proposals have been publicly challenged.

Result:  The current representatives of the developer have been working hard to gain credibility by meeting with local homeowners, community organizations and the city to get input on design proposals and areas of the project that are open to citizen input.

Credibility:  When the developer went bankrupt 20 years ago and left behind unfulfilled promises, they lost their credibility.  So far, for the proposed new development, the developer’s staff seem willing to work with citizens and to adjust plans and proposals based on community input.  Should that willingness to work with the community continue throughout the entire project, they will regain some measure of credibility.

Case study #4.  The local planning board for the above project (Case study #3) has been open to citizen input and listened to many expressed concerns about traffic and environmental issues.  They hired a traffic specialist who recommended that one proposed entrance to the proposed project should be moved to a different location (as suggested by citizens).  Moving that entrance alleviated most of the concerns about traffic and safety at the originally proposed location.

Result:  So far, the projects are being adjusted to be better than they would have been without that 3-way cooperation between the city, developer and citizens.  The full build-out is still years away, so cooperation will need to be maintained over the course of the project.

Credibility:  The planning board has gained a great deal of credibility by actively encouraging public input on their projects, really listening to the citizens’ concerns and following through by working with the project owners and city staff to adjust plans.

Credibility Gained and Lost

Once credibility is lost, it is hard to regain and requires much more work than continuing with good credibility.  Once trust is lost, it takes a lot to overcome the mistrust and to find common ground again.  People who lose trust in their leaders feel betrayed.  A feeling of betrayal is one of the most difficult issues to overcome.

When people listen to each other — even with they disagree on some things — a lot of credibility is gained and trust can develop.  Being honest, admitting mistakes and looking for ways to adjust to make a project better; all lead to improved credibility.

Dishonesty — real or perceived  — is a fatal blow to credibility.  Successful public officials and business leaders have learned how important it is to have the trust of those they serve.  Leaders cannot function without trust and credibility.  People will not follow leaders they don’t trust.

Business leaders and public officials are watched.  Closely.  They are very visible to many people.  Even small mistakes can cost them important credibility and make doing their job more difficult.

All humans make mistakes.  Even leaders and public officials.  When a mistake happens, do they deny making a mistake, pretend it didn’t happen, refuse to accept responsibility or honestly "fess up" and try to do better?  How they handle their mistakes is tied into their credibility.  People are generally more receptive when people are honest about what happened, take responsibility for their actions and and try to remedy the mistake.   

Some tips for looking at your own credibility

As a leader, how is your own credibility holding up?

  1. Are you clear about your vision for the future and do you share that with those whose help you need to achieve it?
  2. Do you regularly ask for feedback and listen to suggestions?  If not, start doing it now.
  3. Do you get feedback that people trust you and your decisions?  If not, why not and what are you doing about it?
  4. Do you truly appreciate suggestions made by those you interact with?  If not, change your attitude and remember that most people are really trying to help you be successful when they give feedback.
  5. Do you consider in advance how your actions and/or decisions will be perceived by others who are affected?  If not, start doing that now and make it a regular habit.
  6. Are you willing to constantly learn and grow to become a better leader?  Are you constantly working to improve your knowledge and your skills?
  7. Do you try to understand the perspective of others and help them to understand your perspective?  Being willing to dialog about our differences and to be able see the views of others goes a long way toward developing credibility.


  Internet Resources

book graphic  Books   -  Disclosure: We get a small commission for purchases made via links to Amazon.

  • Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It (2nd edition). James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner. Jossey-Bass Publishers. 2011.  ISBN 978-0470651711
  • The Truth about Leadership: The No-fads, Heart-of-the-Matter Facts You Need to Know.  Jossey-Bass, 2010.  ISBN 978-0470633540
  • There's No Such Thing As "Business" Ethics: There's Only One Rule For Making Decisions.  John C. Maxwell. 2003, Warner Faith. ISBN: 0446532290
  • The Transparency Edge: How Credibility Can Make or Break You in Business.  Barbara Pagano, Elizabeth Pagano, 2003, McGraw-Hill.  ISBN: 0071422544
  • 7 Personality Types: Discover Your True Role in Achieving Success and Happiness.  Elizabeth Puttick, PhD.   Hay House, 2009.  US version: ISBN-10: 1401924565  ISBN-13: 978-1401924560  (UK & Australia versions)  
  • The Personality Puzzle: Solving the Mystery of Who You Are. Jose Stevens, JP Van Hulle. Pivotal Resources; (December 1990) ASIN: 0942663063
  • The Power Path: The Shaman's Way to Success in Business and Life.  Jose Stevens.  New World Library, 2002.  ISBN: 1577312171
  • The 7 Aspects of Sisterhood: Empowering Women Through Self-Discovery.  Debra Gawrych.  Common Boundaries Consulting & Communications; (September 2002) ISBN: 0971064601
  • Transforming Your Dragons: Turning Personality Fear Patterns into Personal Power. Jose Stevens. Bear & Co; (July 1994) ISBN: 1879181177
  • Income Without a Job: Living Well Without a Paycheck.  Michael Jay Anthony, Barbara J. Taylor., 2008  ISBN-13: 978-0-557-00377-8.  Website:  Tap into your own creativity and use  your full potential.  Learn how to see opportunities that others miss.   

world wide web - articles  Articles

Related newsletter articles:
    Feb 2004 - Corporate Integrity & Credibility: Why it is so important
    Aug 1997 - Improving verbal skills
    Nov 2001 - The Essence of Leadership
    Mar 1996  - Laws of Life; Changing Values 
    Nov 2008 - Being trustworthy won't make you a Trusted Advisor!
    Nov 2000 - Effective Written Communication

smiley graphic  The Lighter Side  

A man told his son “You may believe only fifty per cent of what you read in books, thirty per cent of what you read in newspapers, and about twenty per cent of what they say in the TV news. What else you want to believe (or not believe) depends on your sweet will”

It's not about how much movement you do, how much interaction there is.  It just reeks of credibility if it's real.  If it's contrived, it seems to work for a while for the people who can't filter out the real and unreal. ... Fred Durst (independent film maker) 

All credibility, all good conscience, all evidence of truth come only from the senses. ... Friedrich Nietzsche (philosopher)

The more you are willing to accept responsibility for your actions, the more credibility you will have ... Brian Koslow (American author and entrepreneur)

Consultants have credibility because they are not dumb enough to work at your company  ... Scott Adams (Dilbert cartoonist) 

Leaders aren't born they are made.  And they are made just like anything else, through hard work.  And that's the price we'll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal ... Vince Lombardi (award winning football coach)

You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time ... Abraham Lincoln


About our resource links:  We do not endorse or agree with all the beliefs in these links.   We do keep an open mind about different viewpoints and respect the ability of our readers to decide for themselves what is useful.

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