Credible leaders do what they say and say what they do
By ERIC LAU
A wise leader once said, “He who thinks he leads, but has no followers is simply taking a walk.”
Great leaders have genuine followers. Genuine followers willingly submit themselves to great leaders. They follow because they want to, not because they have to.
So, what makes a leader so compelling that people would just follow them wholeheartedly? The answer: leadership credibility.
Credibility is the foundation of leadership. It is the quality of being trusted and believed. Credibility is the currency of influence. Without credibility, sustainable leadership influence that bears good fruit is impossible.
In their bestselling book, The Leadership Challenge, authors James Kouzes and Barry Posner researched extensively about personal traits, characteristics and attributes people look for and admire in a person whom they would be willing to follow.
After covering well over 100,000 respondents since 1987 across six continents, the results have been striking in their regularity.
According to their research, what people most look for in a leader has been constant over time across countries, cultures, ethnicities, organisational functions and hierarchies, genders, level of education and age groups.
The answer? For people to follow a leader willingly, the No. 1 trait that leaders must display is honesty.
Yes to virtuous character
This is not complicated nor is it rocket science. If you want to lead credibly, you need to be honest. No one will believe in the message if they do not believe in the credibility of the messenger.
Honesty is a moral character that connotes positive and virtuous attributes such as integrity, truthfulness and straightforwardness, along with the absence of deceiving, lying and cheating.
You may be asking if it is really that big a deal that leaders must lead with such virtuous character?
The answer is a resounding yes. Great leaders and even successful organisations can collapse overnight because of a moral oversight.
Case study: Enron
Consider the great tragedy of Enron Corp.
Enron was once ranked the sixth largest energy company in the world.
In 2002, the US Department of Justice opened criminal investigations into Enron for misrepresenting earnings and modifying its financial statements to indicate favourable performance.
Enron shares were worth US$90.75 at its peak in August 2000 and dropped to US$0.67 in January 2002, subsequently leading to the largest bankruptcy in US (United States) history at that time that left thousands of workers with worthless stocks in their pensions.
Most of their top executives, including their chairman and chief executive officer Kenneth Lay were tried for fraud and found guilty and were sentenced to prison.
It was tragic. Lay died of a heart attack about one month after the courts found him guilty.
This is not the only story of the downfall of Enron. Arthur Andersen which was at that time Enron’s auditor was also found guilty for obstructing justice and for illegally destroying documents relevant to the investigations.
As a result, Arthur Andersen which was one of the five largest auditing and accounting firms in the world collapsed too.
It is ironic that the very people who were supposed to uphold the highest standards of integrity to independently validate financial statements were found to be otherwise.
What happened to both Enron and Arthur Andersen? The root of the issue is not complex. The bottom line: a deficiency of moral uprightness in leadership.
Leaders with integrity
Having leaders with good values is not just a “nice to have” for organisations. The absence of it can be devastating, as we have seen with Enron and Arthur Andersen.
In fact, cultivating leadership which has good values is a business strategy that is imperative for sustainable growth and development.
Indeed, good leaders lead effectively when they display good values.
Case study: Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln, arguably the greatest and most famous president of the US had a unique nickname.
He was called “Honest Abe”. The future president was first called “Honest Abe” when he was working as a young store clerk in New Salem.
According to one story, he had once realised that he had shortchanged a customer by a few pennies. He then closed the shop and walked quite a considerable distance to deliver the correct change to the customer.
Over time, people recognised his integrity and were soon asking him to act as judge or mediator in various contests, fights and even disputes.
The folks in New Salem knew they could always trust his judgment and they relied implicitly upon his honesty, integrity and impartiality.
By the time Lincoln was president, he gained an impeccable reputation as a man of integrity. Everyone, including his most formidable political opponents, knew exactly where they stood with Lincoln. They did not have to second-guess his intentions nor his promises.
As a result, he didn’t have to waste time convincing his opponents of his sincerity and was able to devote much of his energies to solving political issues and winning the war.
Needless to say, his credibility landed him enormous influence to change the political and social landscape of his nation.
In comparison, what kind of leaders are we? Do people doubt our intentions or do they believe in our sincere motivations? Are they sceptical about what we say or do they trust our words?
Simply put, credible leaders do what they say and say what they do. There is an attractive authenticity in the way they lead that others get magnetised to their leadership.
Becoming a credible leader begins with character. Character is ingrained into us. It is taught to us by our parents, teachers and through life’s experiences.
As leaders, we have to intentionally choose to live out the positive values in our leadership on a daily basis. People do not merely look up to us for guidance.
They are looking for examples. When we are able to role model, we set into motion a powerful leadership momentum that not only shows the way but lives the way.
This then leads to right actions and profitable results that are sustainable.
No matter where you are in your leadership journey, leadership credibility needs to be at the forefront as you lead.
People will not willingly follow a leader if they lack credibility. Trust must be earned through credibility.
So, what are you waiting for? Be a credible leader. Start today!
Credibility: Whose standards count more?
Our credibility is oftentimes measured by how well we meet expectations. Sometimes, we impose other people’s expectations on ourselves for the sake of credibility.
In the end, does meeting someone else’s expectations really matter? Whose form of credibility are we counting on?
Find out in this episode of Leadership Nuggets with Roshan Thiran!
To check out the video, click here.
Eric Lau is a strategic leader with a relentless belief in people. His personal mission is to inspire and influence others to rise up to their full potential and calling. Eric is a faculty trainer with Leaderonomics and regularly leads training sessions in the areas of leadership, management and personal development. To engage him for your organisation, write to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more Be A Leader articles, click here.
First appeared on Leaderonomics.com. Published in English daily The Star, Malaysia, 11 July 2015