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Build Leadership Credibility by Defining Personal Credibility

We need to stop making excuses for ourselves and for leaders who fail to follow through on their promises. To start, let's define personal credibility because that's the rock-bottom foundation of leadership credibility. 

Graphic Showing List of Promises Being Fulfilled

The problem is that we don't consistently hold leaders, including ourselves, up to this bare minimum standard. Follow through, we reason, isn't consistent because the leader is so busy... or has so many important things to attend to... Really?

Leadership credibility means Doing What You Say You Will Do

What could be more important in leadership than delivering on your promises? As a leader, how does "busy" exonerate you from this most basic of obligations? I'm not buying it.

The impact of not following through on your promises is that you will, in due time, lose credibility. Being credible means: being believable, worthy of confidence and trustworthy. 

That's why Doing What You Say You Will Do is the foundation for leading. People will not follow someone who isn't believable. You can't lead without the confidence of others. And if you can't be trusted, you can't be effective in leading.

Here are some best practices for defining personal & leadership credibility.

1.  Use DWYSYWD to Define Personal Credibility

The Latin root word for credibility is credere which means "to believe in."

It's the same as the root for credit, so you can think of it in this way: before a bank extends credit, they check the creditworthiness of a borrower. Has the borrower been reliable enough to inspire confidence and trust in paying back the loan?

Leaders are evaluated by followers in the same way. Have you inspired confidence and trust in doing your part? Can people rely on you to Do What You Say You Will Do (DWYSYWD)?


When you DWYSYWD, people know they can count on you.

Following through on the little things earns you the trust and confidence to do bigger things. People will follow you and put their faith in you when you have earned their trust and confidence. If you breach their trust by breaking promises (even small ones), you will be less effective as a leader.

Resource: Download this free Employee Engagement Checklist to improve your effectiveness as a leader.

As you define and demonstrate your leadership cred, start here. Nothing else matters more and nothing else you do will overcome a lack of DWYSYWD.

2.  When You Define Personal Credibility, Inspect Your Expectations

When leaders define their leadership philosophy or talk about what they stand for, they can misrepresent their ideals and intentions as absolutes.

If their actions don't back up their professed beliefs, this impairs leadership credibility. Saying it simply isn't enough. That's why it's a good idea to check yourself. Consider:

  • Do you back up your words with consistent actions?
  • Are you auditing yourself on percent of promises kept?
  • Do you keep meetings you've scheduled more often than you cancel or reschedule them?
  • Can people fully believe that you will DWYSYWD on time and (nearly) every time?

Before you hold others to these kinds of standards, be sure you are modeling them in your own behaviors.

3.  Don't Define Personal Credibility Unless You Will Hold Yourself Accountable to It

Of course, you do have another choice. You could duck and cover. Some do. Instead of setting expectations you can't or won't live up to, you could opt to remain non-commital.

By not committing to anything, you give yourself more latitude. Instead of making promises, you can make vague statements. Some classics are:

  • "I'll try to get back to you on that."
  • "Let me look into it."
  • "Let's get together some time next week."
  • "Let's form a committee to consider this." 

The downside of these strategies is that others find you ineffective. Decisions and action items stall out. People grow impatient and frustrated with you. Ultimately, others won't see you as much of a leader.

Which brings us back full circle to: YOU as a leader.

To be a leader, you have to lead. To lead, you have to build leadership credibility. To build leadership credibility, you have to DWYSYWD. It's not as discretionary as it may seem at first.

Make sure you don't have a blindspot when it comes to your soft skills or style. Take the free, self-paced course called The Essentials of Personal Effectiveness to build transferable skills and improve the quality of workplace interactions. 

Next steps for leaders who want to bolster their personal credibility:

1. Check out this webinar on How to Avoid 3 Common Stumbling Blocks on Your Way to the C-Suite.  It’s free and available 24/7 on demand.
2. Subscribe to our weekly CONNECT2Lead Newsletter for special offers, content, and blog.

Deb Calvert is a certified Executive Coach, Certified Master with The Leadership Challenge® and architect of leadership development programs for nearly 100 organizations. She helps leaders at every level discover and achieve their leadership goals. Deb is the founder of People First Productivity Solutions, building organizational strength by putting people first since 2006.CONNECT-2-Lead-graphic-300x159