A few weeks ago, my good friends Kevin Peck and Josh Patterson asked me to lead a session for a group of ministry leaders they are coaching. During the coaching session, we spent some time talking about the importance of credibility in leadership. Years ago, in the classic work The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner identified through their research that credibility is the single most indispensable leadership characteristic. Without credibility it is impossible to lead. You may have a leadership title without credibility, but are never actually leading without credibility. During the conversation, Josh Patterson typed something into the Zoom chat, which I find very helpful and clarifying:
Personal credibility: I am who I say I am.
Professional credibility: I do what I say I will do.
Both personal and professional credibility are essential for the leader. The former is about character and integrity. The latter is about execution and faithfully and skillfully doing one’s job.
Possessing personal credibility is being a trustworthy person, being compassionate and honest. When someone has personal credibility, you believe the person when he or she talks. You trust the person with your family and friends. You are confident his or her motives are pure and know deep down in your gut that he or she is filled with integrity.
How does one get and maintain personal credibility? Integrity. Telling the truth. Being a person of character. Being who you say you are. Constantly bringing your life into alignment with what you say.
While personal credibility is about one’s character, professional credibility is really about one’s ability to deliver on expectations, to accomplish goals, and to execute the responsibilities the person has been given. Just because you think someone is an amazing person who you would love as a neighbor does not mean you trust the person to accomplish a goal or get something done. While personal credibility is most important, professional credibility is critical if a leader desires for people to trust and follow.
How does one get and maintain professional credibility? Execute. Do what you say you will do. Don’t make excuses. Deliver with joy and gratitude, thanking people along the way.
A leader with a deficit in credibility has to spend disproportionate amounts of time communicating because trust is so low. A leader with a deficit in credibility can only rally people around an idea and can never ask people to follow him or her. Thus, the commitment from the team will always be less than what it would be if the leader had credibility. While both personal and professional credibility are indispensable, one can much more easily recover from deficits in professional credibility than deficits in personal credibility.