In The Leadership Challenge, researchers and authors, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner claim that the most important leadership characteristic is credibility. Based on extensive research over two decades, they write that “more than anything, we want leaders who are credible. People must be able to believe in their leaders.” Without credibility a “leader” won’t be leading long.
With similar thinking, Aristotle believed that effective communicators possess logic, passion, and credibility (logos, pathos, and ethos). A communicator without credibility is a communicator who won’t really be heard.
Credibility is essential in leadership. Here are five common ways leaders lose their credibility:
1. Lack of humility
Pride is repulsive. Over time, people loathe following someone who continually displays pride. Leaders who are unwilling to admit mistakes, who think everyone else’s ideas are inferior to their own, and who never asks for help lose credibility over time … and in escalating amounts.
2. Lack of clarity
When a leader fails to offer clarity of mission or clarity of values, people are unsure of their collective mission and their collective identity. When clarity is absent, trust erodes. An unclear leader loses credibility as people look to leaders for direction.
3. Lack of love
A leader without love is a clanging cymbal. A leader who continually is angry, not hospitable, and views people as tools instead of people with value decidedly loses the heart of those he/she is seeking to lead.
4. Lack of moral authority
People do not expect their leaders to be perfect. But they do expect their leaders to be men and women of character and integrity. A leader whose life lacks integrity is a leader who lacks the authority to really lead.
5. Lack of serving
Leaders who never get their hands dirty, who never step into the context of those they are leading, who never experience what their teams experience lose credibility to lead. They are perceived as dictators and talking heads and not leaders who serve alongside those they lead.
The Book of Proverbs teaches us “A good name is to be chosen over great wealth; favor is better than silver and gold” (Proverbs 22:1). Both riches and credibility can be lost, but when leaders lose their credibility, they lose much more.