Leaders to Leader

Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

The Dynamic Nature of Credibility

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Ross Perot

When leaders are selected to lead, a reservoir of trust, confidence and credibility is automatically established, similar to an opening balance when one creates a bank account. The factors that contribute to this include:


Prior to their selection of a leader, boards of directors or selection committees will establish a series of expectations that will be used during the evaluation process to filter the appropriate candidates and select the one who is determined to be the best.

Therefore, leaders are selected to meet the expectations of the board and investors and to fulfill specific goals and objectives. At the CEO level, these may include such things as producing growth, entering into new markets and increasing profitability, etc.

Related: Six Ways to Enhance Your Personal Credibility


Leaders will normally undergo a selection process that establishes their initial level of credibility. The evaluation process will review the following:

Personal Credibility

Assesses individual reputation and trustworthiness.

Professional Credibility

Assesses the individual’s abilities, skills and capabilities to perform the job and to meet expectations.


Assesses the individual’s competence and evaluates past performance.

Outcomes and Results

Assesses the track record and the professional accomplishments of the individual.

If individuals are promoted from within an organization, they will have an established base of credibility in these four areas that are readily verified. They also may have established it with one or more of the company’s key constituencies.

This will vary by the previous exposure individuals may have had with these groups. Otherwise, credibility is established through the selection process including interviews, performance reviews and reference checks.

Related: Six Ways to Enhance Your Personal Credibility


Initial levels of confidence are rooted in the beliefs of the board or selection committee that the individual possesses the capabilities and experience to meet their expectations. The authority granted to leaders is affirmed by these three factors.

At this point, the only basis of their legitimacy is the authority conferred upon them. They may have initial levels of validity, based upon reputation and past performance, but to the core constituencies, the leader must verify that validity in their minds.

After the selection process, their levels of validity, confidence and credibility will either rise or fall. This is based upon the same four factors used by a selection committee, including:

  • Personal Credibility
  • Professional Credibility
  • Competence
  • Outcomes and Results

Unlike the selection process, the key constituencies will continually use these criteria to gauge leaders’ performance as long as their tenure continues in the company. The research demonstrates that positive performance in each of these areas will generate specific levels of trust, confidence and loyalty, which enable leaders to establish emotional connections and standing with them.

Analysis of the great leaders validates that credibility is not static. Levels rose and fell as circumstances changed. This doesn’t mean the leaders were not credible or couldn’t be trusted. It revealed that only degrees of confidence varied with key constituencies at any single point in time.

The research illustrated that the emotional bonds and standing established by leaders appeared to carry more weight over the long term. This allowed them to maintain their credibility during difficult periods. When these occurred, their constituencies were willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. This validates the clear correlation between credibility and emotional support when it is most needed. As was previously noted, elevated and sustained levels of credibility generate strong bonds of loyalty.

Conversely, the research showed that key constituencies often abandon leaders with poor or diminishing levels of credibility. Major missteps or unethical actions and inept decision-making erode credibility to the point where some leaders never recover. This is exemplified by traumatic events such as restructurings, major layoffs, organizational chaos, or strikes.

In some cases a leader’s validity and legitimacy may be completely lost. Carly Fiorina (Hewlett Packard) experienced this after her failed attempts to radically change her company’s culture. In her case, she had developed problems within all four categories. This resulted in the loss of emotional standing with all her key constituencies. It destroyed her validity to lead. In the end, we all heard of the widely publicized loss of her position as CEO of Hewlett Packard.

Many corporate leaders fail to understand the holistic impact their actions and decisions have upon personal credibility and levels of trust with key constituencies. They also often fail to understand the synergy and bonds of emotional connection and standing within these groups, and the importance to keep them in balance. As previously mentioned, any imbalance will generate additional credibility problems and trust-related issues.

Ross Perot achieved high levels of credibility with the public when he staged a daring rescue of his employees from Iran, during the Islamic Revolution in 1979. It was further enhanced when he ran for President in 1992. He had a number of nationally televised events, where he presented his solutions for solving the nation’s problems.

However, on the night of the election, he quickly destroyed his credibility by making light of his efforts, leaving many who voted for him feeling betrayed. While much of the public initially viewed him as a credible leader, he failed to show his concern and appreciation after the election. This caused many of his supporters to feel used, leaving them disenchanted. After this episode, he never again achieved the levels of prominence in the minds of his supporters he once had.

Related: “Leaders Should Set a Clear and Decisive Tone at the Top”

For more information on this topic, 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).

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

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