7 common qualities of credible people
Source: Fast Company – work-life
Author: Gwen Moran
Credibility is an increasingly valuable attribute today. Perhaps to no one’s surprise, the 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer found a rise in polarization, with the U.S. falling in the top quarter of countries deemed “severely polarized.” But business bucks that trend. Edelman’s research found that business is now not only the most trusted institution but also the only one trusted globally. In addition, the research found that respondents overwhelmingly expect CEOs to use their resources to “hold divisive forces accountable,” according to the report’s press release.
But in order for information to be seen as trustworthy, you also have to believe the person delivering it. “If you don’t believe the messenger, you won’t believe the message,” says Barry Z. Posner, leadership professor at Santa Clara University. He calls it “the first law of leadership.” Posner and his colleague James M. Kouzes, fellow of Rice University’s Doerr Institute for New Leaders, are coauthors of Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It. “[It’s] even more true today, it could be said, because we believe the messenger, we’re going to believe the message—even if it’s not true,” he adds. That makes building credibility an imperative imbued with responsibility.
What makes someone credible? Who are these folks who seem to engender our trust, sometimes before they even say a word? As it turns out, they have a few things in common:
A key component of credibility is competence, says Douglas Fisher, professor and chair of the department of educational leadership at San Diego State University and coauthor of Leader Credibility: The Essential Traits of Those Who Engage, Inspire, and Transform. While that may seem obvious—you should know what you’re doing or talking about to be credible—what is less so is how the people around you determine whether or not you’re competent.
“What’s really interesting is, in the workplace, the people who report to you judge your competence based on your communication skills more than your bosses, who judge your competence based on your performance skills,” he says. So your competence—and, as a result, your credibility—may be evaluated differently based on your relationship.
They keep their word
Credible leaders communicate well and often, but there’s another element to what they say and how they say it. Posner calls it, “DWYSYWD”—in other words, do what you say you will do. Credible people don’t make promises they can’t or don’t intend to keep. They use words carefully and then ensure that they’re doing what they articulated. “We call it ‘discovering yourself’—knowing what’s important to you so that you can articulate it. And then once you articulate it, listening to yourself so that you make sure that you’re not saying one thing and doing another,” Posner says.
They value accountability
Accountability is another important component of credibility. “It’s not only holding yourself accountable, but to be credible, you have to hold other people accountable,” Posner says. That means noticing when they’re doing things wrong, but also noticing when they’re doing things right. If someone performs in an outstanding way, that should be called out, too, because it sends a message to the team that accountability isn’t always negative.
They connect with others
Credible leaders understand who they are and how to communicate to their audience, says executive coach Carol Kauffman, coauthor of Real-Time Leadership: Find Your Winning Moves When the Stakes Are High. She adds that they also go “beyond the Golden Rule.”
“The Golden Rule is ‘treat others as you would want to be treated.’ But to be truly credible, you want to treat others the way they would want to be treated,” she says. So, if you’re an extroverted leader, you adapt to the needs of introverts on your team. If you’re dealing with people who are worried, you respond in a reassuring manner. Being relatable fosters a sense of connection that aids credibility, Fisher adds.
Credibility is also bolstered when someone truly cares about an issue or situation. Posner points to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as an example: “He built credibility with a nation by not leaving.”
Showing that you’re invested by having another’s best interests at heart can also build credibility, Fisher says. “The people around us are always watching, and it’s human nature, for example, to look for additional evidence that the person is not trustworthy,” he says. “So we say, ‘Oh, I have this experience with a person not having my best interests at heart or not being reliable,’ which creates cracks in our credibility.”
They’re open to new ideas
Credibility requires having the ability to listen and question our own assumptions, Kauffman says. “(Credible people) are willing to say, ‘Hey, I may not be right. What’s your point of view on that?’” Doing so without defensiveness helps them stay open to new information and ideas that inform their opinions and beliefs.
They know what to do when they blow it
Mistakes happen. Deadlines get missed. In short, we blow it sometimes. Credible people own up to their mistakes and figure out what to do to make them right. To keep your credibility, own up to it, apologize, and make it right as soon as possible, Fisher says. Be sure you “close the loop” to let others affected know what you did to make it right. “Then, give yourself a little grace,” he says. And figure out what you can do to improve the circumstances that led to the error or misstep.
Building credibility is an important part of gaining trust—and trust grows more valuable as it becomes increasingly scarce.
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