Whether you are a first-time leader, an experienced manager taking over a new team or an informal leader such as a project or product manager, you will be as successful as you are credible.  Your credibility is your professional bedrock.  Build on it carefully and constantly. 

In my book as co-author with Rich Petro, Practical Lessons in Leadership, I compare credibility to a bank account.  Credibility deposits are hard earned and the balance builds slowly over time as you prove yourself to be an effective, honest leader focused on developing and supporting your team and organization. 

Most leaders (including informal leaders) are unaware of the fact that they are being watched and judged constantly. People naturally look for clues to a leader’s character.  They compare words and actions and if those two don’t match, the verdict is fast and fair: not credible.  They look for signs of hidden agendas, favoritism and gamesmanship.

For even the craftiest of politicians, people are perceptive and will base their commitment and support based on “blink” assessments.

You are on trial every day.  Don’t forget it.

 Nine Power Techniques to Help Build Leadership Credibility:

1.    Serve & Support.  While it sounds like the logo on the side of a police cruiser, the effective leader understands that he/she is working for his/her team and constantly reinforces this philosophy in both words and actions.

2.    Create a Positive Working Environment.  This includes working with team members to set behavioral expectations for performance, accountability, decision-making and resolving problems and then reinforcing those values and behaviors with consistent actions.  

3.    Teach.  The best leaders are aware that their ultimate goal is to help develop others.  They are teachers that use developmental opportunities and feedback as their primary educational tools.   

4.    Insulate & Showcase.  These seemingly conflicting actions are part of the leader’s balancing act.  The leader must learn how to insulate the team members from destructive interference while ensuring that they receive the visibility and support that they require.  In particular, ensuring the right visibility for teams and members is a powerful motivational tool.

5.    Facilitate & Make Decisions.  More conflicting issues.  As a teacher, the leader must learn to facilitate solution development and idea generation.  However, when conditions require, he/she has no qualms about making and communicating decisions.

6.    Communicate at Just the Right Volume.  It’s easy to whiff on this one.  Bombard your team with low-value communiques and you are a distraction.  Offer too little and you’ll be accused of everything including the Lindbergh kidnapping.  The best leaders work with teams and members to define needs and evaluate and improve communications effectiveness.

7.    Anchor Communications in Goals.  Just like a CEO works to constantly integrate strategies and actions in pursuit of creating value for customers, the leader ensures that team and individual goals are front and center and linked to the firm’s goals.  

8.    Dispense Accountability Fairly.  Play favorites or let under-performers slide and not only will you destroy the team environment, you’ll eviscerate your own credibility as a leader.  Remember, everyone is watching.

9.    Live by the Coach’s Credo.  If the team succeeds, it is because of the team.  If it fails, it is because of the coach.  Seriously, effective leaders don’t look for scapegoats.

Without credibility, your effectiveness is nil.  Most people and most leaders are woefully ignorant of their perceived credibility.  Walk in the door everyday with the goal of strengthening yours.  Remember, you are being watched.  Closely.