Book Review of Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It; Why People Demand It by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner

This Book Review of Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It; Why People Demand It by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner is brought to you from Caroline Janssen from the Titans of Investing.

Genre: Business Leadership
Author: James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner
Title: Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It; Why People Demand It (Buy the Book)

Summary

In the past, leadership was viewed as a position or title that granted its holder the authority to make all decisions. However, this type of leadership is no longer effective in today’s global, dynamic environment. Titles no longer grant authority – leaders do not decide if they lead, but rather their followers do. Followers look for leaders who care about meeting their needs, developing their potential, and collaborating to solve problems.

Studies have shown that followers most admire three categories of characteristics in their superiors: integrity, competence, and leadership. Another survey revealed four key traits people desire in someone they follow: honest, forward-looking, inspiring, and competent. These results have remained constant over time and across various cultures, and provide a framework for what leaders must do to develop effective relationships with their constituents.

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By consistently exhibiting these traits a person develops credibility, the ultimate foundation of leadership. However, it can sound too philosophical or idealistic to achieve. Leaders therefore must take daily, practical actions to develop their credibility. There are six disciplines for earning and sustaining this critical characteristic:

  1. Discover Yourself: It is critical that leaders know themselves well in order to act with integrity. Leaders must recognize their own strengths and weaknesses, know their values and beliefs, and discern the level of commitment and work they are willing to devote. They can do this by developing a credo along with competence and confidence.
  2. Appreciate Constituents: Good leaders take the time to get to know their followers on a personal level. They learn what motivates their team, what their team values are, and how their team builds trust. This knowledge allows leaders to align constituents around a central focus and work toward a common goal.
  3. Affirm Shared Values: While clear personal values are an important component of credible leadership, leaders must ensure all members align with shared values. This creates organizational credibility, which reflects positively on its leadership.
  4. Develop Capacity: Leaders must give followers choices about what to do, feedback in how they are doing, confidence to try new ideas, and competence to execute their responsibilities. When leaders provide a learning environment for constituents, their reputations are enhanced, which in turn expands the leader’s credibility.
  5. Serve a Purpose: Constituents must believe that their leaders truly have their best interest in mind. When leaders demonstrate that they are not in their role for self-interest, people are more willing to follow. Leaders should put others’ needs before their own, and have the confidence to give up control while still inspiring commitment.
  6. Sustain Hope: Leaders have the responsibility of remaining optimistic about the future and expressing genuine belief in their constituents’ abilities. If leaders remain passionate even during difficult times, their commitment is contagious to the rest of their team.

Leadership is a Relationship

Leaders have the responsibility of setting the tone and direction of their company. In the past, leadership was viewed as a position or title that granted its holder the authority to make all decisions. However, this type of leadership is no longer effective in today’s global, dynamic environment.

Titles no longer grant authority – leaders do not decide if they lead. Rather, followers do. Followers look for leaders who care about meeting their needs, developing their potential, and collaborating to solve problems.

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Studies have revealed that followers most admire three categories of characteristics in their superiors: integrity, competence, and leadership. A more detailed survey was performed to rank twenty characteristics people desired in someone they would willingly follow. Four of these traits consistently emerged at the top of the list: honest, forward-looking, inspiring, and competent.

These results have remained constant over time and across various cultures. They provide a framework to illustrate the actions leaders should take to develop effective relationships with their constituents. By consistently maintaining these characteristics, a person develops credibility, the ultimate foundation of leadership.

Honest

Followers consistently rank honesty as the most important attribute of a good leader. They want to be kept in the loop of information; they wish to know both the good information and the bad. In return, if leaders demonstrate openness, followers will replicate it in return. An important component of honesty is consistency in keeping promises.

Forward-Looking

From a follower’s perspective, it is critical that leaders have a high but achievable vision for both themselves and their company. Constituents want to know the direction they are heading – they must know the big goals in order to understand better the importance of their daily tasks. The leader’s vision must be well-defined and communicated in detail, and it should consist not only of tangibles, such as profitability, but also of organizational dynamics within the company.

Inspiring

Constituents want to follow someone who portrays energy, enthusiasm, optimism, and encouragement. Leaders should be so passionate about their objectives that their followers will also care immensely about the vision. Energy concerning goals is contagious, and it is vital to the cultivation of dynamic followers.

Competent

Blind enthusiasm might inspire for a short time; but in the end, it must be backed by ability. Constituents must view their leader as effective and capable, not just passionate. Leaders must therefore create visions that are inspiring but realistic, and they must know and communicate the proper steps to achieve them. Leaders must take time to get to know their business, operations, and followers, and then must expand on the expertise of others.

Credibility Makes a Difference

The greatest leaders are those who anticipate future actions, are continual teachers, set an example of hard work, trust their constituents, and provide and take feedback. They desire to boost their followers’ trust through generosity and genuine recognition of good work. They should seek to cultivate their followers’ strengths and recognize that followers are often motivated by how their leaders make them feel.

One of the greatest tools of a leader is his or her ability to express pride in an organization. This promotes team unity and loyalty. Each of these characteristics is a building block of credibility, which earns commitment from followers. Many leaders neglect to realize that developing and sustaining such credibility is a day-by-day, person-to-person activity.

Leaders must interact with individuals within their organization. They must establish a physical presence among their constituents, rather than remaining behind their own desk every day. Effective leaders relate to their followers by telling stories, sharing personal insights, and taking time to join normal office dialogue. This “face time” is a critical factor of developing credibility.

Many people define trustworthy leaders as those who will do what they say they will do. While such consistency is indeed critical to be a credible person, it does not necessarily create a credible leader. Rather, to earn credibility within an organization, leaders must develop a “do what we say we will do” mentality.

The inclusiveness of “we” is crucial to leadership, because it requires that a leader understand the beliefs and goals of constituents. Leaders and followers must be heading in the same direction in order to achieve, and thus leaders must be clear about direction, unified around motivations, and intense about commitment.

Credibility is the ultimate characteristic of effective leadership. However, it can sound too philosophical or idealistic to achieve. Leaders therefore must take daily, practical actions to develop their credibility. There are six disciplines for earning and sustaining this critical characteristic.

The Six Disciplines for Earning and Sustaining Credibility

1. Discover Yourself

It is critical that leaders know themselves well in order to act with integrity. Leaders must recognize their strengths and weaknesses, know their values and beliefs, and know the level of commitment and work they are willing to devote. They can do this by developing a credo, competence, and confidence.

Clarify Your Personal Credo

Throughout history, the most respected leaders have been those who have passion and stand for something greater than themselves. Constituents expect leaders to have strong convictions, and when a leader is swayed easily by fads or temporary opinions, they are often tagged as behaving politically. Therefore, it is fundamental that a leader establishes and communicates his or her personal values and beliefs that guide decisions and actions – a personal credo.

Let Your Values Be Your Guide

When leaders establish their values, they are able to take positions on issues. Sometimes, a leader will have to balance two values or have difficulty behaving consistently with every value at all times. However, by previously communicating all personal values, leaders open office dialogue about such conflicts. This enables constituents to talk through conflicts and have a better understanding of each other.

Values also serve as a strong motivator. Even when work grows monotonous or attaining goals is more difficult than anticipated, values can inject energy into the situation. Leaders must ensure that they have clarified their values before they confront difficulty.

After creating and initial list of values, leaders should organize them by importance and arrive at a ranked list of five to seven critical values. Once they have this list for themselves, they must make it known. Leaders need to actually speak to constituents about them, and be able to defend why they chose their specific values.

Evaluate Your Values

While leadership is fundamentally amoral, leaders themselves are either moral or immoral. The aspiration of moral leadership should be to make people free, independent, and capable of being leaders themselves. True leaders prioritize learning their constituents’ needs and values by listening more than talking.

Leaders still must take a stand on their own values, but having discussions and open-mindedness will allow critical values clarification for all parties involved. Overall, leaders must hold the right values and challenge constituents to confront dilemmas.

Acquire Competence

Competence is a key component in developing credibility. Relationship-building should still be stressed, yet without adequate knowledge and skills leaders are not able to deliver on their promises. Leaders must be acutely aware of what they are and are not equipped to do, and they must possess the insight to know what skills they must learn to accomplish future goals.

When leaders are competent, they are able to be genuine – they can achieve results, but are not compelled to boast about them. Leaders recognize that they must be lifelong learners to add value to their company, and they take the necessary steps to become such.

Believe You Can Do It

Self-efficacy, or well-founded self-confidence in one’s own abilities, is a core component to effectiveness. When leaders doubt their abilities, they accomplish much less than their potential. Confidence in abilities dictates leaders’ amount of effort and length of perseverance, and also lowers stress in intense situations.

If leaders have the skill to accomplish a task yet doubt themselves, they have no business trying to lead a group to the goal. Leaders know their limitations and must overcome them before trying to lead constituents in those areas. A leader can enhance self-efficacy in four ways: mastery experiences, observation of role models, social support and encouragement, and reinterpretation of personal stress.

Mastery experiences allow a leader to learn to accomplish certain tasks well. They are achieved through patience, persistence, and perseverance; leaders also recognize that they, not their circumstances or surroundings, cause their performance. By watching role models, leaders should find others similar to themselves and observe their accomplishment of tasks.

This allows leaders to learn from their processes as well as develop a healthy “If they can do it, I can do it” attitude. Social persuasion helps leaders believe in their abilities, so it is important that they have a strong support system. Leaders will feel tired and discouraged at some points; however, they must not allow their physical tiredness to convince their mind that they will not master a task. Leaders must become engrossed completely in tasks to prevent self-doubt from distracting them. This will allow them to enjoy what they are doing even in high-stress situations.

2. Appreciate Constituents

Good leaders take the time to get to know their followers on a personal level. They learn what motivates their team, what their team values are, and how their team builds trust. This knowledge allows leaders to align constituents around a central focus and work toward a common goal.

Shift Focus from Self to Others Through Values

It is critically important that leaders find alignment between their constituents’ personal values and the organization’s values. Values should be so deeply engrained that they are never actually seen themselves; instead, they are portrayed through actions, attitudes, and decision-making.

Followers want leaders who lead by example and give a sense of meaning and shared purpose to their work. If leaders provide this, constituents will respond by rewarding the company with hard work. Therefore, by recognizing and learning about all followers and their values, leaders can convey that they truly care about others and desire the best outcome for all.

Shift Focus from Self to Others Through Values

It is critically important that leaders find alignment between their constituents’ personal values and the organization’s values. Values should be so deeply engrained that they are never actually seen themselves; instead, they are portrayed through actions, attitudes, and decision-making.

Followers want leaders who lead by example and give a sense of meaning and shared purpose to their work. If leaders provide this, constituents will respond by rewarding the company with hard work. Therefore, by recognizing and learning about all followers and their values, leaders can convey that they truly care about others and desire the best outcome for all.

Learn About Others and How Diversity Enriches Performance

Businesses are becoming more and more global, so in order to thrive leaders must appreciate the diversity of their constituents. Diversity adds new perspectives and cultivates creativity and innovation as well as adaptability and resiliency. Such a shift, however, complicates the leader’s role of synthesizing values.

This requires leaders to listen more and possess more understanding as well as acknowledge differences. Leaders should seek to develop a collaborative instead of a competitive tone and should learn to view situations from each of their followers’ perspectives.

Begin Appreciation with Listening

The best way for leaders to show their respect is by listening well. This requires lots of face time with constituents, which means leaders must walk hallways, visit production floors, etc. Social media can also be a useful tool; however, leaders must recognize that it value stems from enhancing their connections with followers, not from forming the connections.

In the process of listening well, leaders sometimes must reevaluate their past decisions or beliefs. One of the most effective ways to convey genuine listening is by asking for feedback – while it can be uncomfortable, it produces greater trust between leader and follower.

Promote Constructive Controversy

Good leaders do not suppress dissent; rather, they actively encourage it. This allows constituents to know that their opinion is heard and appreciated, which then encourages them to be more committed to the outcome of the discussion. Greater initial disagreement allows for more accurate results because greater levels of ethical reasoning are reached.

Constructive controversy forces clarification of ideas and eliminates ungrounded confidence in initial thoughts. At the end of constructive controversy, everyone should feel like they have fully expressed their opinion and should be much more open-minded and knowledgeable about the subject.

Engender Trust

Leaders must recognize that trusting constituents encourages them to trust the leader in return. This is critical because followers must first trust where the leader is guiding them before they buy into a leader’s vision. Leaders can develop trust by being available, providing information, and sharing personal stories.

When leaders talk about their actions, they must do so very candidly so constituents never feel like they are hiding anything. In addition, leaders must deal honestly and proactively with problems. To ensure they are trustworthy, leaders should examine whether their behavior is predictable or erratic, whether their communication is clear or careless, whether they treat their promises seriously or lightly, and whether they are candid or deceptive.

3. Affirm Shared Values

While clear personal values are an important component of credible leadership, leaders must ensure all members align with shared values. This creates organizational credibility, which reflects on leadership.

Use Shared Values to Make a Difference

While all constituents will have various personal values, it is important for a leader to find some core beliefs that everyone respects. Such shared values are the cornerstone for productiveness and genuine relationships. They provide a more objective and visible reference for rewards and reprimands. When followers feel like they are all on the same team, much energy is generated and the quality of decision-making increases.

Find Common Ground

Leaders often make the mistake of announcing their important values and then expecting everyone to follow them. Instead, true leaders need to incorporate constituents into the process of setting shared key values. When leaders allow followers to participate in setting organizational values, the followers are essentially deciding for themselves if they are working in the right place. This leaves organizations with only the constituents that want to be there, making it more effective as a whole.

Create a Trusting Community

Unless constituents know what they have in common, they have very little reason to remain committed to the organization. Credible leaders inspire people to support higher organizational purposes by establishing cooperative goals. An important first step in building a trusting community is opening communication. In addition, giving followers bigger responsibilities engenders stronger commitment. Such trust and emphasis on team, rather than competitive independence, creates credibility for the leader.

Advocate Cooperation and Reciprocation

The benefits of competition are often mistakenly emphasized over cooperation. To help their organizations to develop necessary collaboration, leaders must ensure their constituents realize their shared beliefs and common purpose. Leaders can redirect competitiveness towards beating out rival firms rather than coworkers.

Reciprocation is another critical element of developing credibility – leaders must always seek to give to and help followers before requesting anything from them. Leaders can help cultivate a cooperative environment by highlighting the interconnectedness of roles and ensuring constituents are confident enough to ask for help.

Reinforce Shared Values Through Organizational Systems

All processes within a company must affirm the espoused shared values in order for constituents to affirm them. This begins with recruiting and hiring – leaders should clearly communicate shared values to all candidates as well as look for those candidates who fit the company rather than the specific job. After the hiring process, it is critical that shared values are transmitted through the orientation program.

This requires intentional focus, because new hires will want to understand the reasoning and substance behind the values. After orientation, values are reaffirmed through ongoing training and development. Also, leaders ensure that there is a clear correlation between recognition or promotions and commitment to the organization’s values.

Reconcile Values Dilemmas

In organizations, leaders and constituents will face dilemmas in value alignment. Leaders should ensure that disagreeing parties first know their own personal values well, and then seek to understand the other person’s perspective. Leaders need to recognize that some values will change over time, and they must have a built-in process for the organization to renew its priorities. Blind adherence to principles can cripple organizations, so leaders must cultivate an environment friendly to renewal.

4. Develop Capacity

Leaders have the responsibility of developing their constituents’ abilities to complete goals. They must give followers choices about what to do, feedback in how they are doing, confidence to try new ideas, and competence to execute their responsibilities. When leaders provide a learning environment for constituents, their reputations are enhanced, which in turn expands the leader’s credibility.

Build Competence Through Education

By providing additional training, leaders equip their followers to work harder and more productively. Constituents become more capable and qualified, which boosts their confidence and output.

Offer Choices, Foster Ownership

When constituents are given choices, their commitment to the organization is built. This is especially important when leaders are deciding how shared values are implemented so that followers are strongly committed to upholding them. Leaders must give latitude and discretion to followers—constituents must be free to make some authoritative decisions. Such increased responsibility and involvement produced higher commitment and harder work.

Foster Confidence

Constituents must feel that they have control over their own lives. They must feel personally important and effective within the company; essentially, leaders should seek to convert their followers into leaders. By offering encouragement and complements, leaders can boost constituents’ self-confidence and therefore output. Leaders can develop this type of environment by providing opportunities to gain experience and achieve many small successes over time.

Create a Climate for Learning

In order for people to be capable of learning, they must feel safe enough to make mistakes. Much of learning requires learning from mistakes, so constituents should not be punished for honest failure while learning. Such security also creates more openness about feelings and problems, which can help leaders make adjustments where necessary. Leaders create a climate where challenging assumptions, questioning routines, and disputing perspectives are encouraged. This approach encourages creativity and innovation.

Share Information, Give Feedback

Leaders develop a high degree of transparency by sharing information. When they neglect to do this, followers easily become suspicious and questioning. When people are given all information, they understand what tasks they must complete and why, which cultivates commitment. They can see the links between shared values and decisions made.

Leaders have the responsibility of offering open feedback on progress. Positive feedback is very encouraging, and as long as leaders have been careful to develop their followers’ self-confidence and capabilities, disappointing feedback will provide them motivation for more effort.

Ensure That Everyone Becomes Responsible

When leaders share responsibility and offer more freedom to followers, it also gives them more accountability. Allowing constituents to take ownership of goals cultivates a cooperative culture that forces them to say only what they mean.

This attitude, then, contributes to credibility by reinforcing the “do what we say we will do” mentality. If one teammate neglects his or her responsibility, the entire team’s credibility suffers. This encourages members to utilize their skills daily, led by their leader’s example.

5. Serve a Purpose

Servant leadership is critical if leaders wish to be credible. Constituents must believe that their leaders truly have their best interest in mind. When leaders demonstrate that they are not in their role for self-interest, people are more willing to follow. Leaders should put others’ needs before their own, and have the confidence to give up control while still inspiring commitment.

Go First

Leaders should always take the first step towards a goal because it demonstrates their commitment to and belief in the vision. Research has shown that organizations where employees believe managers follow through on promises and demonstrate shared values are substantially more profitable than organizations that lack such leadership. Time is a leader’s most precious commodity, so how they spend it says a lot. Devoting effort to leading constituents towards goals and taking the time to gather feedback develops credibility.

Stay in Touch

As emphasized previously, leadership is a relationship. Leaders must be good listeners and must devote time to face-to-face communication. This effort demonstrates that they are truly interested in their followers, which generates more trust from them.

Leaders’ reactions to bad news also communicate a lot to constituents. Leaders must convey that facts must always be communicated and that people are free to discuss anything with them. They must remain approachable and cannot give the appearance of being too busy to talk.

Make Meaning, Daily

Leaders are remembered by the reputations they build through daily actions. The impressions they leave are constructed through helping people make choices, setting an example of hard work and character, and making time for people; the consistency of these actions allow a leader to leave a positive and memorable impact.

Become a Storyteller

Telling personal stories makes leaders more relatable and “real” to their followers. They also are very powerful teaching tools. Leaders can encourage hard work by recognizing an employee through a story of his or her commitment. They can create a teaching moment by recounting their own learning experiences. They can relate a story of a leader they respect. The information in a story is much more memorable than normal communication because it creates an emotional tie.

Regain Credibility Lost

No matter how wonderful they may become, a leader is still human and will make mistakes. Leaders should follow the “Six A’s of Leadership Accountability”: accept responsibility, admit one’s failure to followers, apologize for the impact of the mistake, act quickly to rectify the problem, make amends by suffering alongside constituents, and attend to new constituent needs. If leaders take the proper steps, followers usually are forgiving up to a point. A “three strikes and you’re out” rule appears to describe the patience of constituents with leaders’ mistakes.

6. Sustain Hope

Leaders have the responsibility of remaining optimistic about the future and expressing genuine belief in their constituents’ abilities. If leaders remain passionate even during difficult times, their commitment is contagious to the rest of their team.

Take Charge

Leaders should approach problems as challenges, maintaining a positive outlook. They must recognize the hard work need to overcome the challenge but should keep a sense of humor throughout the process. Such a proactive approach is inspiring to followers and creates strong momentum to get through difficulties. Leaders become engaged and involved, rather than bitter and discouraged, when they face struggles. When leaders portray this type of grit, constituents will follow.

Balance Hope and Work

Hope should never translate into blind optimism. Leaders recognize that the more hope they portray, the more work and grit is required. Such balance is relative – individuals must determine how much work is necessary to fulfill their hopes – yet the balance does exist. Leaders need to know when to alter strategies or goals and not become discouraged by having to do so. Such humility combined with determination increases credibility.

Arouse Positive Thoughts and Images

Studies have shown that when individuals mentally envision success, they are more likely to achieve it. Leaders recognize this phenomenon and seek to paint positive images through stories of success and belief for the future. They take an optimistic approach – they view failures as temporary and having specific causes, and they view triumphs as products of their actions.

To convey this to their constituents, leaders highlight specific situations that contributed to the failures. They stress that the failures are temporary and can be overcome. At the same time, they consistently recognize the individuals who are producing positive outcomes.

Unleash Your Passion

When leaders are passionate about their organization, it is contagious. Passion makes people perform to their best ability and creates a sense of productive excitement. When team members experience suffering together in pursuit of a goal, their passion for and devotion to the vision increases. Leaders are the first to suffer, which allows them to develop more compassion for their followers.

Give Love and Support

The power of effective leaders stems from love for their followers and their work. When constituents can see that their leader cares immensely for their needs as well as the work they are accomplishing together, they are inspired and motivated. Leaders sustain hope over time, through good and bad times, by being supportive and developing relationships. They cultivate an environment where people both willingly seek and offer help.

A Realistic Outlook

In day-to-day life, leadership is a difficult task. Leaders often face situations that cause tension between different aspects of credibility. For example, leaders must balance the freedom and constraint of constituents. Allowing more freedom in decision-making is becoming more common; however, leaders must continue to offer guidance and constraint.

Leaders also must choose when to lead and when to follow. They might have strong personal convictions about ways to lead their constituents, but they are confined by upper management. Leaders must grapple with different definitions of success. Scope and scale should be determined by their personal values, because leaders can be just as effective at a small start-up company as at a Fortune 500 corporation.

Leaders must also be careful to avoid letting the desire for excellence spill into excess. Excess in self-discovery can lead to arrogance; excess in appreciating constituents can lead to fragmentation within the organization; excess in affirming shared values can produce rigidity within a set of principles; excess in developing capacity causes vanity; excessively serving produces subservience and ineffectiveness; excess in sustaining hope creates over-dependence of constituents on their leaders.

Leaders, therefore, must continually reevaluate their organization, attitude, and example. They must ensure their company is dynamic enough to adapt to new environments, and they must seek to renew their credibility continuously.

HookedtoBooks.com would like to thank the Titans of Investing for allowing us to publish this content.  Titans is a student organization founded by Britt Harris. Learn more about the organization and the man behind it by clicking either of these links.

Britt always taught us Titans that Wisdom is Cheap, and principal can find treasure troves of the good stuff in books.  We hope only will also express their thanks to the Titans if the book review brought wisdom into their lives.

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