Leaders to Leader

Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

Credibility is Deeply Rooted in a Leader’s Character

with 2 comments

Herb Kelleher, Founder & Former CEO of Southwest Airlines

During the course of my research of 160 famous American leaders, spanning 235 years, I observed that legitimacy is the foundation of leadership.

If that is true, then credibility is the pivotal point of it. Everything revolves around the leader’s credibility. It is the most important aspect of leadership, yet in most leadership books, it is often either ignored or minimized.

It may be assumed that most individuals are already aware of the importance of their credibility, but my research substantiates that this is not always the case. Research clearly illustrates that the great leaders understood the critical importance of credibility in their lives, and took the necessary actions to protect and strengthen it.

A typical leadership development program teaches individuals about the necessity to establish a vision, communicate effectively, build strong teams, empower employees, etc. Anyone exposed to these programs is familiar with these principles. Yet, without credibility, none of the above actions can be effectively undertaken.

The lack of a leader’s credibility undermines all their key actions and activities, fostering distrust and a void in confidence.

To fully understand what credibility means, one must explore the specific factors that contribute to the establishment of it within other people’s minds. Each factor needs to work toward fostering trust, confidence and believability.

Credibility is deeply rooted in the leader’s character. Jon Huntsman in his book, Winners Never Cheat Even in Difficult Times (Wharton School Publishing, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 2008) stated,

“Character is most determined by integrity and courage. Your reputation is how others perceive you. Character is how you act when no one is watching. These traits, or lack thereof, are the foundation of life’s moral decisions. Once dishonesty is introduced, distrust becomes the hallmark of future dealings or associations.”

This destroys a leader’s credibility and undermines the fragile bonds of trust formed with investors, customers, employees and other critical stakeholders.

Credibility is firmly grounded in a leader’s intellectual honesty. It is impaired if one fails to display intellectual honesty on multiple levels, and to face reality and deal with problems as they arise.
According to Huntsman,

“Many leaders only want to hear the positive… Those who never want to hear bad news don’t want to know when they are off course.”

Intellectual dishonesty breeds both cynicism and disbelief with all concerned, and undermines accountability with all key constituencies. This effectively destroys the levels of trust and confidence leaders require to be effective.

For more information on this topic and to read a free chapter, refer to Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It by Timothy F. Bednarz (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011).

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2 Responses

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  1. […] of our character. I cannot overemphasize character enough as a leader and make reference to another blog post that I read just today regarding the same […]

  2. A leader’s reputation is everything and a leader can lose his reputation only once. In leadership, reputation is the number one thing and reputation ultimately determines effectiveness. Respectfully, Mike Pterusek.

    Mike Petrusek

    November 4, 2012 at 3:42 pm


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