When students, employees, and athletes aren’t performing to expectations, a lack of accountability from the people in charge is often cited as a cause. Throughout my career, I have often made the mistake of jumping to that conclusion when one of my department directors reports that his or her associates aren’t executing their job duties well. They have left my office with the guidance to once more explain the expectations to the non-performing associates and to follow up with disciplinary action if the desired performance isn’t achieved.

This really isn’t an incorrect approach, as dispensing consequences can be part of correcting poor performance. However, is it truly the best approach? Are the desired outcomes of any organization—whether it is a sports team or business unit—nothing more than a threat and corrective action away from being achieved? After 15 years of executive leadership riddled with countless mistakes and faulty approaches, I have come to passionately believe that leadership focused on credibility rather than accountability is the more effective approach to take.

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To be credible is to be trusted and believed in by the people that surround you — and it is the force multiplier when it comes to achieving the results you desire. Almost all of us have had experiences with authority figures that are harsh disciplinarians: the coach that makes you do gassers after a fumble or the shift supervisor who calls out every single error that is made during the workday. These individuals generally have very high standards and are not afraid to dispense feedback or consequences when bad to mediocre results occur. The difference maker regarding how we perceive these individuals lies in their credibility. Do we view them as hostile jerks that wanted to make our lives miserable or do we consider them as tough mentors who drove us to levels of excellence we could have never achieved on our own? Are we beaten into compliance or are we inspired to achieve? The highly credible leader will always outperform the tyrant simply because people work harder for individuals whom they trust and believe in.


So how do you become a credible leader? Here are a couple of things to consider:

1. Be human.

When you make mistakes, admit and own them. All too often I see leaders, both old and new, believe that they need to put on an air of infallibility and perfection in order to be credible. This is a foolish perception as everyone—from the housekeeper to the divisional vice president—picks up on the weaknesses of those in charge. They know you’re not perfect, so stop working so hard to pretend to be. Authenticity is the hallmark of every great leader because people want to follow someone who is real and genuine.

2. Be openly appreciative.

I have never been devastated by a supervisor who is willing to give a healthy “butt-chewing” as long as they are as equally enthusiastic about giving praise. Appreciation is the morphine that great leaders use to take the sting out of honest feedback. Celebrating the success of your people and your organization changes the thought from “my supervisor is someone who only talks to me when I screw up” to “I want to make my supervisor proud.”

3. Be a communicator.

When people are confused about what is expected of them and how they are to be successful, great results are often extremely elusive. Credible leaders have a fierce commitment towards effective communication with those with whom they work. They spell out the pathways of success simply and thoroughly. Most importantly, they believe that communication is a two-way street and are very open to associate feedback, questions, and even being respectfully challenged on decisions.

4. Be consistent.

In order for someone to count on you, you must be the same person from one day to the next. If you are warm and engaging one day and then snarky and distant the next, people will be hesitant to approach you. If they don’t know which “you” they are going to get, they will be hesitant to approach you. Consistency inspires confidence in those around you; if they can trust that you won’t shoot the messenger when a bad outcome occurs, they will be less inclined to keep things from you.

5. Be firm.

You don’t have to compromise your results or lower your expectations when applying the qualities above. In fact, I would argue that being a credible leader gives you license to expect more out of your people. There is absolutely nothing wrong with requiring employees or athletes to follow the rules, work hard, and put forth their best effort. Just know that your results will be considerably greater if you enforce these expectations from a position of credibility.

Credibility in leadership isn’t easy. It takes a considerable amount of work and a profound investment in the people who work for you. However, though the road is tough, the payoff makes it all worthwhile. Because the credible leader “adds” to the lives of those around him or her, they not only enjoy great results and achievements, but also the loyalty, appreciation, and esteem of those around them. While their efforts benefit the organizations they work for, their true legacy lies in the lasting influence they have on those they taught and invested in.

Image credit: mnsanthoshkumar ©