Writing for the Let’s Grow Leaders blog, Karin Hurt observes that it’s hard to establish credibility as a leader and easy to lose it when you have.
Hurt explains: “The sad truth is I’ve seen really good leaders lose the confidence and credibility of their teams by making well-intentioned and innocent mistakes.”
She adds: “I’m not talking about the big stuff like lack of follow-through or breaking commitments, but the subtle shifts that undermine all the trust you’re working to build.”
The author highlights some of the traps to avoid:
1) Word choice. Leaders can create a vision and gain attention through using dramatic words. But Hurt warns that credibility can be lost when the words are inappropriate for the situation.
She explains: “I once worked with a leader whose rally cry of the year was, ‘We’re in the fight of our lives.’ Now, it’s true the competition was fierce, and we needed every brain, heart and hand actively engaged in the struggle. The trouble was many in her audience were literally in the fight of their lives in one way or another: the second bone marrow transplant, a dying sister, a son still in Iraq.
“I could see these dedicated leaders squirm when she said these words. Sure they knew what she was trying to say, but the words did not inspire the cause.”
Also guard against understatement. If something’s genuinely impressive, don’t say it’s “OK”.
2) Lack of understanding. Leaders need to understand the jobs their people do.
You’ll lose credibility when offering advice or issuing orders for jobs you can’t actually do yourself.
3) Being out of touch. Leaders need to understand the personal circumstances and lifestyles of the people on their teams.
It’s no good using frames of reference that your people won’t understand or that are irrelevant or inappropriate to their lives.
4) Making it all about them. Hurt explains: “Leaders often take on a celebrity status. People will ask lots of questions about their background, career path, advice.
“It’s great to share. But leaders lose credibility when they talk about themselves without turning the tables and taking a genuine interest in others.”
The author advises: “Listen more than you talk. Ask provocative questions. Get to know backgrounds, hopes and dreams. Provide opportunities for others to share.”
5) Strategic ambiguity. No doubt there will be some strategy and information you’ll want to keep secret. If that’s the case, just tell people you can’t talk about it.
Don’t try to cover up your secrecy with far-fetched stories and spin. Employees will see through it and you’ll lose trust as well as credibility.