Credibility: How Leaders Gain And Lose It – James Kouzes and Barry Posner (1993)

Credibility: How Leaders Gain And Lose It, Why People Demand It discusses how leaders earn the trust and confidence of their constituents.  The authors engaged in extensive research which included the surveying of over fifteen thousand people and more than four hundred written case studies.  The stunning results yield a treasure chest of information.  Some of the nuggets include the qualities that constituents look for and admire in leaders, the foundation of leadership and of all working relationships, the principles and disciplines that strengthen leadership credibility, and the struggles that leaders face in living up to their constituents’ expectations.  The conclusion: credibility is the foundation of all working relationships.

The first chapter maintains leadership is relationship and credibility is indeed the foundation of leadership.  Businesses can no longer get away with the “us verses them” mentality.  Rather one hears phrases like “seamless partnerships, “web of mutual responsibility” and “mutual commitments” in the marketplace.  Further, the research conducted by the authors shows what constituents expect from their employers.  The most frequent response was integrity or honesty, a leader who is forward-looking, inspiring and competence.

Chapter two discusses the difference credibility makes.  This chapter demonstrates how people feel working with leaders they admired.  The frequent responses are “valued,” “motivated,” “enthusiastic,” “challenged,”  “inspired,” “respected,” and “proud.”  The conclusion is that when people work with leaders they admire and respect, they feel better about themselves.  One therefore comes to the realization that high credibility earns intense commitment.  And commitment will ultimately enable people to regenerate great businesses, communities and churches.  Further, the six disciplines of credibility are offered as the means for building the foundation of leadership.

The first discipline of credibility is discovering yourself.  Three aspects of this discipline are developing one’s credo, competencies and confidence.  The credo is a simple affirmation of one’s values which serve in making decisions and resolving conflicts.  Acquiring competence involves building the necessary skills to perform a given job with excellence which in the long run builds credibility.  Strengthening credibility requires continued improvement of existing abilities which takes time and attention.  Self-confidence  or “self-efficacy” carries tremendous weight as one develops as a leader.  Keys to developing confidence include mastery of one’s job, modeling (learning from mentors who do the job well) and support (hearing from those we respect that we are doing a great job).  Ultimately, credo, competence, and confidence are the content of character.  Leaders do well then, to take time to discover their individual strengths and liabilities.

The second discipline of credibility is appreciating constituents and their diversity.  This skill simply involves empathy; learning how to understand and see things from another’s perspective.  “The greater the extent to which we comprehend each others perceptions, concerns, and values, the greater our ability to work together.”  Appreciating diversity involves showing appreciation by building trust.  And the greatest way to build trust is to listen carefully to the hopes, hurts and dreams of constituents.  Leaders further appreciate diversity by welcoming feedback and divergent viewpoints.

The third discipline of credibility is affirming shared values.  The authors claim that shared values are the foundation for building productive and genuine working relationships.  One critical objective in doing so is the building of cooperative communities that promote these commonly held values.  The net result:  finger pointing is eliminated and problems are solved at the grass roots level.  Further, the authors endorse the utilization of organizational systems to reinforce shared values.  They recommend orientation classes, training and development and promotions to foster an environment that places values at the forefront of the organization.

The fourth discipline of credibility is developing capacity.  The critical concept here is that credible leaders liberate potential leaders around them.  They turn their constituents into leaders and as a result earn credibility as leadership is distributed across the organization.  Credible leaders also have a passion for educating those around them.  They are not intimidated by others in the organization that commit themselves to life long learning.  Further, credible leaders offer choices, encourage ownership and inspire constituents to greater confidence.

The fifth discipline of credibility is serving a purpose.  Leaders serve a purpose and the people who have made it possible for them to lead.  In fact, the service of leaders is the basis of their credibility.  Serving involves staying in touch, constant attention to listening and learning from constituents and matching words and actions.

The fifth discipline of credibility is sustaining hope.  Credible leaders look on the bright side.  Their lives are brimming with optimism.  They demonstrate daily courage and inspire constituents to see positive images of the future.

The final chapter discusses the tension between freedom and constraint.  Kouzes and Posner discuss the fine line of leadership and explore the potential excesses of the six disciplines that comprise the bulk of the book.

Credibility is a tremendous book.   The research should be commended for its depth and breadth.  But more important is the personal nature of the research presented.  Cold statistics and data are absent from this volume.  Rather, real-life stories lay before the reader and the principles emerge confirming the thesis that that credibility is the foundation of all working relationships – and of all relationships that work.  The material is thought-provoking, practical, and may be implemented immediately in the local church context.  I will refer to this book again and again as I seek to develop leaders who are committed to living in and building the kingdom of God.

5 stars

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