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5 Subtle Ways Leaders Lose Credibility

5 Subtle Ways Leaders Lose Credibility

Credibility is hard to establish and easy to lose. The sad truth is I’ve seen really good leaders lose the confidence and credibility of their teams by making well-intentioned and innocent mistakes. I’m not talking about the big stuff like lack of follow-through or breaking commitments, but the subtle shifts that undermine all the trust you’re working to build. Don’t fall into these traps.

  1. Word Choice – Leaders use dramatic words to create a vision and gain attention. That’s good. I’m all for colorful language and exciting words. But leaders lose credibility when the words in play are too big or small for the situation at hand. I once worked with a leader whose rally cry of the year was, “we’re in the fight of our lives.” Now, it’s true the competition was fierce, and we needed every brain, heart and hand actively engaged in the struggle. The trouble was many in her audience were literally in the fight of their lives in one way or another: the second bone marrow transplant, a dying sister, a son still in Iraq. I could see these dedicated leaders squirm when she said these words. Sure they knew what she was trying to say, but the words did not inspire the cause. It works the other way too. Words can be too small. If it’s time to be impressed, be impressed. Don’t say, a project was okay when you should have said Wow! 
  2. Too Close, Yet So Far Away – Leaders don’t necessarily need to be able to do the job of the people on their team, but they do need to understand it. I was talking to a sales VP the other day who was in the long-term relationship sales game. He said his boss was asking him to call his prospects every day to follow-up. Having had this VP sell to me in the past, I can’t imagine a worse approach. Our relationship worked because of deep trust and long-term commitment, nagging would have been an immediate turn-off.
  3. Out of Touch -A close cousin to #2, leaders lose credibility when they can’t relate to the personal circumstances of their teams. The other day, I heard a customer service VP on stage talking to a team of call center reps trying to inspire great customer service. She shared, “if you’ve ever been on a Disney Cruise, that’s the kind of service I need you to provide.” These reps were worried about putting food on the table and gas in the car. The sentiment was spot on, but she needed another example.
  4. All About Me- Leaders often take on a celebrity status. People will ask lots of questions about their background, career path, advice. It’s great to share. But leaders lose credibility when they talk about themselves without turning the tables and taking a genuine interest in others. Listen more than you talk. Ask provocative questions. Get to know their background, hopes and dreams. Provide opportunities for others to share.
  5. Strategic Ambiguity - Some strategy and information is secret. If you can’t share, say that. But masking the truth with spin, far-fetched positioning, and other bologna will diminish your credibility fast. People will see through it and wonder what else, you’re not saying.

You’re working too hard to build credibility with your team and organization to throw it away with a sloppy mistake. Pay attention to these potential derailers. Get others involved, sometimes they’re too subtle to see from where you sit.

Your turn. What other subtle ways to leaders lose credibility?
Filed Under:   Authenticity & Transparency, Energy & Engagement
 
 
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt is an experienced executive, speaker, and writer with a diverse background in sales, marketing, customer service, merger integration, training and organizational leadership. Her company, Let’s Grow Leaders, helps companies gain a competitive edge by building extraordinary front-line teams. She was recently named to the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trusted Business Behavior by Trust Across America. Karin knows the stillness of a yogi, the reflective road of the marathon runner, and the joy of being a mom raising emerging leaders.
 

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What People Are Saying

Bob Whipple "The Trust Ambassador"   |   14 May 2014   |   Reply

I think that lack of humility is the most significant way leaders lose credibility. When leaders feel aloof, they become disconnected with the reality on the ground with people, and bad things start to happen.

Karin Hurt   |   14 May 2014   |   Reply

Bob, I totally agree. Thanks for adding that. I’ve seen that really become an issue again and again.

bill holston   |   14 May 2014   |   Reply

So agree! I think humility is right at the top of necessary character traits. Admitting when you are wrong, apologizing for errors, and giving credit to others. great point.

Alli Polin   |   14 May 2014   |   Reply

I’ve lived through and with every one of them. Hopefully I haven’t been a perpetrator. In one situation we were designing a new org structure and getting ready for a significant downsizing. Unfortunately, some very pointed questions were met with reassurances by the senior leader and put the rest of the leadership team in a tough bind.

Change starts with awareness…

Karin Hurt   |   14 May 2014   |   Reply

Alli, Thanks for sharing your story. False reassurances are dangerous, and very difficult to forget.

Steve Borek   |   14 May 2014   |   Reply

Take a team member’s idea and suggest how to make it better. Once they add their two cents, the team member’s idea is now the leaders idea. It’s an order to do it their way vs. the team members way.

Leaders, stay out of the way and do less.

Empower vs. deflate.

Karin Hurt   |   14 May 2014   |   Reply

Steve, Oh that’s a really good subtlety. Thanks so much for adding that.

Dallas Tye   |   14 May 2014   |   Reply

Maybe related to ‘All About Me’ however worth a mention I think.

- Leaders who approach things from a point of fear.

Karin Hurt   |   14 May 2014   |   Reply

Dallas, Oh that’s totally worth a mention. In contrast to how some leaders act, fear does not build respect.

bill holston   |   14 May 2014   |   Reply

Knowing the teams jobs is essential. I was a long time volunteer at this agency in one program. I made sure to handle one of the cases personally for the other program once taking this job. I wanted to know 1st hand what it was like to handle those cases. It accomplished three things: 1. It communicated to my supervisor of that program I cared about her program, 2. I gained practical knowledge and 3. Formed my own story for fundraising.

Karin Hurt   |   14 May 2014   |   Reply

Bill, What a great example. Love it. So true about #3 being able to share your personal story goes a long way in building credibility.

Bill Benoist   |   14 May 2014   |   Reply

Hi Karin,

I would add leaders who fail to communicate when followers need to hear from them the most.

I can use the 2008 recession as an example. When everything was going well, we would often hear about it. When things changed, many companies I know of went silent until the first round of layoffs. It was a very ugly time and I know many people who lost credibility in the leadership of their companies because the silence was worrisome for them.

Karin Hurt   |   14 May 2014   |   Reply

Bill, Great addition. Yes, in times of stress people need more communication not less.

Terri Klass   |   14 May 2014   |   Reply

Another subtle way leaders lose credibility is by telling others that their ideas or suggestions have been used before and just won’t work. Instead of looking at the possibility that other factors may have changed, they automatically “nix” the idea and in turn the individual “nixes” the leader. I have seen this over and over again. Keeping an open mind is critical and empowering to those around us.

Thanks Karin for a great post!

Karin Hurt   |   14 May 2014   |   Reply

Terri, That’s a great addition as well. Not only do they lose credibility, they’re likely to shut down future ideas and brainstorming.

Susan Foster   |   16 May 2014   |   Reply

Karin, LOVED this article! So many good things in it.

Susan

Karin Hurt   |   03 June 2014   |   Reply

Susan, Thanks so much.

Tom Smith   |   16 May 2014   |   Reply

Lack of transparency — not being “real,” reliable, responsive or responsible.

No one is perfect. A leader that admits his imperfections and missteps will earn the trust of those (s)he is leading more quickly than a leader who does not.

Failure to “do what you say you will do, when you say you will do it.”

Karin Hurt   |   03 June 2014   |   Reply

Tom, Great adds. Thank you. We can go a long way by admitting our imperfections.

Jeremy Mott   |   19 May 2014   |   Reply

Beforeour boss arrived for a meeting, a consultant talked candidly with a group of us who were working on a database marketing project.

We told him that things weren’t very far along, and that we needed his help — despite what stories in the trade press had said about our success.

Then the boss arrived and acted as if we had achieved all of our major goals. Things were peachy. “That’s not what I’ve heard from your staff,” said the consultant.

Realizing he had been caught in a distortion of the truth, the boss admitted, “Well, I guess maybe our press releases have preceded our performance.”

My point: You really do have to be honest with your team and your partners if you want their respect. You can try to fool yourself and your competitors but not the people who do the work.

Jon Mertz   |   21 May 2014   |   Reply

Karin,

Well said. Credibility is something we build over times and, with a few wrong moves or words, we can destroy our credibility in a flash. This isn’t about being risk averse but about being thoughtful in what we undertake.

Great points!

Jon

Karin Hurt   |   03 June 2014   |   Reply

Jon, So true. I so agree, it’s about being truly thoughtful and understanding the impact we are having.

Mary Joan Modderman   |   03 June 2014   |   Reply

I sincerely enjoyed reading your comments and feel it wise to suggest “know your audience/client” to suggest the CULTURAL views can be entirely different – especially working with disabled children and how a family wants to pursue intervention — or not. As O T’s it is critical that we understand exactly where our families mind set is and how to help without hurting.

Karin Hurt   |   03 June 2014   |   Reply

Mary Joan, So glad to have you joining the conversation. You really raise an important point here… helping without hurting.

Steve Jamar   |   05 June 2014   |   Reply

Starting memos with illogical statements like: “hard to establish” does not balance with “even easier to lose.” Credibility is hard to establish, but easy to lose. “even easier” implies that credibility was easy to establish. and the “and” should have been a “but”. I know what you intended, and agree with it, but keep getting caught on the first line.

Far more seriously — leaders can be bullies, or can be nice; they need to be either respected or liked. That is not the main concern. The main, A, Number 1 concern is simply insight. Do they see how to have the group accomplish its task and organize things to reach the desired result effectively? Some situations require ent moot type consensus building meetings and others require imperial directiveness. Sometimes a mediating strategy is best; sometimes that is the worst approach. Distinguishing important things from unimportant — that is critical and many of the worst people I’ve worked with simply lack that ability.

Karin Hurt   |   05 June 2014   |   Reply

Steve, Great insights and word choice coaching. I’m going to change up the wording now as you suggest. I also agree with you that a vital part of leadership is distinguishing what’s most important and supporting the team in accomplishing that end. Great to have you joining the conversation. I do hope you’ll return.