– John Maxwell
Credibility accurately stated is “the foundation of leadership. If people don’t believe in the messenger, they won’t believe the message.” (Kouzes & Posner, 2011; p.xv) It could also be accurately stated that in today’s society and culture there is an ongoing credibility gap. While the terminology of a “credibility gap” was coined in the 1960’s and 70’s political arena, the terminology can certainly be used today of the current gap in the credibility of. Whether one is looking into the realm of political, organizational, and/or even religious leadership there seems to always be a leader that comes up on the short-end of the credibility stick.
Today, the credibility gap may even be widening even more as the level of leader development continues to fall (Tichy, 2007). A credibility gap for leaders is certainly a situation in which the things that the leader has done or said that has moved followers to not believe or trust the leader as he/she has undone the difference between what is said and what shows to be true. In t’s leadership arena, the leader can only lead others to areas he/she has been. In this, if the leader lacks credibility, the leader will lead them to the wrong places and/or may never be able to get a team to follow them altogether. Concurrently, one’s credibility wrapped around their words and actions. If these two areas of communication are incongruent, the leader’s credibility will suffer.
When one is looking deeper within the idea of credibility, one should understand that at the root of the word “credibility” is from the Latin and contains the term “credo,” which ultimately delivers a defined “I believe.” In this, there is the core thrust that leaders should push the feeling of trust and respect that they inspire in others to higher levels. However, within this, effective leaders understand that one just does not gain credibility overnight, as credibility is a combination of things established over a period of time.
Within the core of credibility is also three areas of where followers will be seeking a leaders credibility. Not only should leaders be truthful and live honorable lives to build credibility, there is three realms within the area of credibility identified by Kouzes and Posner (2011) as:
I. Expertise: Objective judgment that is determined by such things as a leader’s credentials, ownership/rank in the organization, as well as all prior accomplishments.
II. Trustworthiness: Subjective judgment that is formed over time from people’s experience interacting with the leader.
III. Integrity: Subjective judgment that is formed over time from a people’s observations of the leader, such as: Does the leader walk their talk, or do they say one thing and do another.
Trustworthiness, expertise, and dynamism are crucial to establishing credibility. Without credibility, no one will ever trust a leader’s vision, nor will the follow to the lengths necessary to be overly effective in an organization’s mission and purpose. Leadership is an engagement with life itself, because it demands that leaders have the ability to lead others and have a unique vision to accomplish in pushing mission and purpose (Bennis, 2009).
The fundamental essence of credibility is trust. Trust is the hallmark of healthy relationships inside and outside of the leadership realm. In this, examining trust at the micro level—in how people trust their immediate leader—or at the macro level in how people trust the organizations they work for. (Kouzes & Posner, 2011) Simply stated, without trust there is a lack of leadership credibility. If the people, personnel, and/or followers cannot trust a leader the will not follow.
Credibility is the foundation of leadership, and leaders will never lead their people to full effectiveness without credibility. Also, leaders will never be able to fully commit to something that does not fit with who they are and how they see themselves (Kouzes & Posner, 2010; p.31). As Kouzes and Posner (2010) present, “When people see you doing what you say, then they have the evidence that you mean it. Otherwise, it’s just words. Your actions send the loudest signals about what other people should be doing” (p.110).
Leaders may think they have a good sense of their credibility among others; however one may need to keep this area in check. The Bible gives evidence of leaders having credibility and setting standards of credibility (1 Timothy 3:1-7). Even more so, the Bible shows that Christians should remember “those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct (Hebrews 13:7; NKJV). In this, there is the idea that Christian followers will see and imitate their leaders that are following God faithfully. From a biblical perspective, godliness brings with it promise, profitability, and credibility (1 Timothy 4:8).
The leader today must give themselves to a life that is disciplined and dedicated to study. In this, the stretching of the mind will directly affect the growth of the soul. The exposure to things in the Scriptures and a regiment of lifelong learning will allow the leader to build a credibility that is Christ-centered and not dependent totally on themselves or the world’s standard of credibility. Furthermore, a leader for today and the future will understand how God is credible and how important it is for them to have a Christ-centered credibility into their lives.