Kouzes and Posner, authors of the best-selling book, The Leadership Challenge, assert that the best lessons in leadership are those we have already learned. We learned them by watching other people. We come to understand, for instance, what courage means by observing others. When the classroom discussion turns to how to earn the trust of our employees, we examine what credibility means. Some say it is about doing what you say you will do (DWYSYWD) or always telling the truth. Yet, we know there is more to it than that.
We ask our participants to think back over the course of their academic, sport, social, spiritual and professional lives and recall someone they hold in high regard as a leader. Then we ask them to describe how those individuals behaved. Inspiring stories about character, composure, competence, courage and caring for others are related. Sharing and hearing these experiences helps define credibility and trust in a way that no dictionary definition can. Participants often say that the person whose story they sharing has had a profound impact on their lives and the way they have decided to lead.
To end the credibility discussion, we reflect on the fact that others are constantly watching OUR leadership choices. When we choose to stand up for what is right even when it is risky, to show compassion for others, to risk our own security for what we believe, or to remain calm and gracious under pressure, we are earning the trust of others. We leave with a stronger sense of what credibility looks like. Our hope is that the next time a situation presents itself, participants will remember how it felt to hear the real-life meaning of credibility and to act accordingly.