What is credible leadership? And why is it so important?

I believe that, when it comes to being a good leader, nothing is more important than credibility.

The issue of what we really want from our leaders has been at the forefront of most of my working life, but it was the pandemic that really got me interested in exploring the issue more.

And the conclusion I’ve come to is that credibility is, above all else, the thing that makes a leader truly excel in their role.

We’ve published a research report on the subject this month How To Be a Leader People Will Follow, it’s the theme of this season’s Redefining Communications podcast and, later in the year, I will be publishing a book which looks at the issue in much greater depth.

In this blog, ‘What is credible leadership?’, I will attempt to outline exactly why I think it is so important and give an overview of some of our initial research findings. I’ll share the eight practices for credible leadership, the research that led me to them and why it’s such an important area to work on.

I’ll also cover what happens when we aren’t credible – and the impact that has on those we lead.

Credibility or authenticity?

During the pandemic, leaders were under a microscope in a way they’d never been before. There was a lot of talk around ‘authenticity’ at work, of how people wanted to see the real humans behind the leadership façade, along with more empathy and more compassion.

Everyone was told to “bring their whole self” to work, but I wasn’t sure this was really the answer. All these attributes are big words open to interpretation in different parts of the world and they evoke different expectations in individuals. What do we really mean when we say leaders need to have more empathy? What does ‘being more human’ look like?

I started to read and research more about empathy and being human at work. I was delving into the depths of empathy – what it is and how we build it. I was exploring where emotions and behaviours come from in human beings and more about how our brains work when it comes to our attention and our relationships with others. I remained uncomfortable with authenticity as a focus for leaders.

And this is why: it’s easily weaponised. It’s very subjective. It’s gives people permission to behave badly. I can think of a few leaders in the political and business arena around the world who are arguably authentic. But are they people we’d really aspire to be like? Are they people to follow?

I believe what we actually want is a leader who is credible.

What does it mean to be a credible leader?

As part of my research I explored different leadership types, personality types, what it takes to lead across cultures and academic papers from journals linked to the topic.

I created a list of the traits I believed leaders needed to display in order to be credible – and then I put them to the test. I wanted to know how people ranked them in terms of importance, and also whether men and women had different opinions on this.

I also asked my LinkedIn community how they would define credibility, and thought it might be useful to share a few of their responses here:

“Credibility is whether you or your organisation are perceived by the audience you’re speaking to as having the capability to be effective in completing the objective set.”

“Has a track record of doing what they say they’ll do, and whose actions demonstrate their good judgement and strong character.”

“Someone who walks their own talk.”

Based on the research, this is my own definition:

A credible leader encompasses a remarkable blend of qualities that naturally attract admiration and respect. Their capabilities shine through in their adept handling of challenges and their knack for delivering consistent results.

With a warm and likeable demeanour, they effortlessly connect with others, fostering an environment of approachability and camaraderie. Empathy courses through their interactions, allowing them to understand the needs and feelings of their team members, and they offer unwavering support in times of both triumph and difficulty. Their integrity is unassailable, guiding their decisions with an unwavering commitment to ethical principles. Trustworthy beyond measure, they honour their promises and inspire others to entrust them with their aspirations. Their visionary perspective extends beyond the horizon, leading the way with innovative ideas that set new standards. They are unafraid to be vulnerable, creating a safe space for open dialogue and genuine connections.

What are the eight practices of credibility that we need to build for people to follow us?

We were able to distil all our findings into The Eight Practices of Credible Leadership.

We found that a credible leader is:

Why being a credible leader is important

  • Empathetic
  • Likeable
  • Capable
  • Supportive
  • Trustworthy
  • Visionary
  • Vulnerable
  • Has integrity

A lack of credibility can soon lead to chaos in the workplace. A leader needs to inspire confidence in their teams and credibility is the fastest way to do this.

Without it, it’s easy for things to become out of alignment and for confusion to take the place of clarity.

For each of the eight practices of credibility there is an impact felt by those you lead when it is missing. For example, if you aren’t trustworthy, people will be disengaged, if you lack vision, people will lack motivation, or if you don’t show empathy you’re unlikely to be able to build relationships.

I’ll be looking at each of the eight practices in detail on the Redefining Communications podcast over the coming weeks, discussing each one in depth and the practical things you can do to build your capabilities in each one. The podcast episodes are 15 minutes each so it’s a snapshot of what you need to think about to build these practices into your leadership.

I’ve just opened the waitlist for my book on this topic too. Nobody Believes You – How to Become a Leader People Will Follow is out in October. You can join the waitlist here.

And if you’re unsure about which one to work on try our free online Credibility Gap Assessment that will create your own Credibility Gap Report, highlighting which ones need some focus and attention.

This topic has been an area of focus for me over the last four years and I’m so pleased that the work is coming together through the research report, the new book and the assessment tool. If you want to delve into understanding your own credibility and chat through this individually or with your leadership team, just drop us an email info@redefiningcomms.com


Share on:
Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn

Join our community

Subscribe to join our community and we’ll be in touch with helpful advice and updates about how we can take your organisation from chaos to calm. Our community gets invited to a quarterly 90-minute Ask Me Anything online session with Jenni Field, as well as early access to events, discounts and research.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Need a fresh perspective?

If you’re a leader or business owner that needs help diagnosing what’s causing chaos, improving your communication and moving towards calm, please get in touch and book a free 15-minute call.

Search

Join our community

Subscribe to join our community and we’ll be in touch with helpful advice and updates about how we can take your organisation from chaos to calm. Our community gets invited to a quarterly 90-minute Ask Me Anything online session with Jenni Field, as well as early access to events, discounts and research.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.