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Dwight Eisenhower once said,

"In order to be a leader a man must have followers. And to have followers, a man must have their confidence. Hence, the supreme quality for a leader is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office. If a man's associates find him guilty of being phony, if they find that he lacks forthright integrity, he will fail. His teachings and actions must square with each other. The first great need, therefore, is integrity and high purpose" (Dwight D. Eisenhower, Great Quotes From Great Leaders, ed. Peggy Anderson, Lombard: Great Quotations, 1989).

Are we credible? Do people have confidence in our leadership? To make an impact on peoples' lives, we must be credible leaders.

Credibility Defined

Credibility is the "reasonable grounds for being believed." One who is credible is trustworthy. We have confidence in a person's character and competence. Socrates said, "The first key to greatness is to be in reality what we appear to be."

The terms integrity and honesty help define credibility.

Integrity is "the state of being complete or undivided." Terms that are parallel to integrity (Hebrew, tom, tomim) help us understand it: righteousness (Psalm 7:8); uprightness (Psalm 25:21); without wavering (Psalm 26a:1 NRSV, NASB, and NIV); and blameless (Psalm 101:2, NRSV); Hebrew uses tom twice in verse; otherwise translated "integrity"). Several Old Testament characters had integrity: Noah (Genesis 6:9); Abraham (Genesis 17:1); Jacob (Genesis 25:27); Job (Job 1:1, 8; 2:3); and David (1 Kings 9:4). English translations frequently render the Hebrew as "perfect or blameless." In the New Testament integrity occurs only in Titus 2:7 in reference to teaching (NRSV, NIV, REB). The idea of singleness of heart or mind is often present: Matthew 5:8; 6:22; James 1:7, 8; 4:8 (Holman Bible Dictionary).

Honesty means "fairness and straightforwardness of conduct." The KJV frequently uses honesty or its cognates whereas modern translations use other words: honorable/honorably (Romans 13:13; Philippians 4:8; Hebrews 13:18; 1 Peter 2:12); noble (Luke 8:15; Romans 12:17); dignity (1 Timothy 2:2); and properly (1 Thessalonians 4:12). Men of "honest report" are men of good standing (Acts 6:3, NRSV; Holman Bible Dictionary).

Leaders gain respect and trust when they do what is right, mentor workers, listen, celebrate good work, follow through on commitments, trust and empower others, share their visions, open doors, overcome personal hardships, admit mistakes, advise others, solve problems creatively, and teach well. Credible leaders influence the lives and decisions of their followers (James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, p. 50).

Myths about credibility and leadership

Myths about leadership and credibility abound.

  1. Image is more important than character. We develop credibility when character is more important than image. Credibility crumbles without integrity. We can pretend to be honest, genuine, and competent for a time, but the pressure of problems reveals our true character.
  2. Leaders have more rights than followers. Position does not grant special privileges. Leaders actually have fewer rights and more responsibility than others. Servant leaders make personal sacrifices.
  3. Leadership is a position of power. Leadership has little to do with position. Leadership is influence, not position.
  4. A leader can lead by position regardless of example. A credible leader leads by example, not by the power of position. A leader who does not model his expectations doesn't have followers for very long.
  5. Charisma is fundamental to leadership. This erroneous view can lead to hero worship and cultism. Charisma is the result, not the cause, of effective leadership.
  6. A leader's personal and public life do not have to be consistent. This is an attempt to excuse moral and character flaws. Credibility requires congruency and consistency in all areas of one's life.
  7. Integrity isn't essential to success. If we define success in terms of money, position, or power, then integrity isn't necessary. True success, however, is living in harmony with God's principles. This requires integrity.

Credibility and trust

Credible leadership is trustworthy. We develop trust through open, honest communication. Leaders also need to be vulnerable. The fear of being hurt often prohibits us from developing relationships that encourage trust and that influence others.

When people distrust, they are suspicious and play mind games. Lack of trust leads one to disguise, distort or ignore facts because of fear or anger. When a worker becomes defensive, miscommunication occurs.

James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner discuss trust and relationships. Their studies reveal that those who work with leaders they trust make better decisions themselves. They share their feelings, are honest about group problems, and are eager to find solutions. They report high levels of mutual influence, greater work satisfaction, higher motivation to act upon decisions, and team closeness. More than 66 percent of those in low-trust groups say they would seriously consider looking for another position (The Leadership Challenge, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1987, pp. 147, 148).

Two factors impact credibility in leadership.

The trust fact. The primary difference between high-performance and low-performance groups is the degree to which they trust their supervisor.

Trust is fragile and delicate. It doesn't come easily or quickly. We withhold trust until we feel safe and respected. We want others to prove themselves before we trust them. We can destroy trust with a single violation.

Richard Huseman and John Hatfield describe attitudes and behaviors that occur at different trust levels:

  1. No trust. People who have lost their trust in a relationship, leader, or organization live by the motto, "I'm going to get them before they get me." They serve their own interests to protect themselves.
  2. Low trust. People in low-trust relationships are suspicious. They don't commit beyond their current trust level.
  3. High trust. People in high-trust relationships focus on giving rather than getting. They feel sure they will not be used or betrayed (Carol Goman, Managing for Commitment: Building Loyalty Within Organizations, Palo Alto, CA: Crisp Publications, 1991, p. 23).

The equity factor. When we give more than we get in a relationship, we want to restore equity. People calculate the costs and benefits of relationships. They may come to your church or Bible study, but if the benefit is not equal to or greater than the cost, they may become frustrated and leave. People evaluate leadership the same way. They support leaders as long as the benefit is equal to the cost. Their support, service, and giving reflects their perception of the benefit. People will commit to trustworthy, credible leaders.

How to build trust and enhance credibility

  1. Demonstrate trust in the other person first. If we assume that the other person is not trustworthy, we undermine the opportunity to build a trusting relationship. Being hurt is always a possibility, but a true leader takes the first risk.
  2. Be sensitive to people's needs and interests. Develop a genuine interest in people. Ask about their needs and interests. Listen to the tones of their voices. Ask questions that show care and concern.
  3. Foster a spirit of cooperation. Zig Ziglar outlines five rules for getting cooperation for others.
    1. The sensitive, effective leader knows he doesn't have all the facts.
    2. Real leadership involves working with and getting maximum production from those with whom we disagree.
    3. Effective leaders see others' perspectives. They sell the advantages of cooperation instead of demanding it.
    4. Organized leaders plan their projects. They choose the right times and places to present their ideas clearly and concisely.
    5. Successful leaders don't allow their prejudices to prohibit them from accepting valid proposals and ideas. They want to win cooperation with an open mind (Zig Ziglar, Top Performance, New York: Berkley Books, 1987, p. 35).

Evaluate your leadership

People who see their leaders as credible also see themselves, their responsibilities, their coworkers, and their organizations differently from those who view their leaders as not credible.

Does you church see you as a credible leader? A true leader has more than a title on his door. He also has the trust and confidence of those who follow him.

People Who View Leaders as Credible
  • Are proud to be part of the group
People Who View Leaders as Not Credible
  • Are less proud of their group
  • Feel a sense of team spirit and belonging
  • Don't feel a sense of team spirit or belonging
  • Hold values consistent with the group's values
  • Don't hold values and views similar to the group's
  • Feel attached and committed to the group
  • Don't feel attached to the group
  • Have a sense of ownership for the group
  • Have little sense of ownership with the group or its vision
  • Believe serving is a joy and seek to do their best
  • Believe members of the church serve as little as they have to
  • Believe others serve to fulfill the vision of the church and commission of Christ
  • Believe guilt and personal gain motivate church members to serve
  • Speak well of the church in public and in private
  • Speak well of the church in public but not in private

  • Look for another church when church experiences problems

Adapted from James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, pp. 31, 32


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