There are few things as rewarding as leadership, but I have also yet to encounter something as difficult. From a distance, leading looks glamorous at times, but when thrown into the real-world responsibility of it, people quickly realize just how much one really has to give up in order to go up.
There are many elements that make up great leadership, but ultimately, great leaders are able to move people from where they are to where they want to be and where they need to be. In order to do this, there is one element that trumps all others in terms of necessity: CREDIBILITY.
People must first believe in a leader before they will ever consider the direction he or she is trying to take them.
The various components that equate to high credibility are the subjects of entire books, but let me share just five attitudes I think are vital in establishing credibility with others.
1. Be quick to admit when you’re wrong.
Few things are more discouraging to a follower than a leader who will never own a mistake. We don’t really have to have all of the answers — we just need a never-ending curiosity to keep growing, searching and discovering. In our efforts to keep our organizations moving, we will, at times, get it wrong. This doesn’t mean we are bad leaders; it means we are human. When it becomes clear that you made the wrong call, don’t defend it; admit it, and your people will find strength in your security.
2. Be honest about your weaknesses.
Everyone has them, and the quicker you are able to be honest and own up to them, the quicker people will begin to trust you. Reassure your employees that while you know your weaknesses, you are also making an effort to improve. This type of honesty makes you a leader worthy of following.
3. Be humble about your areas of strength.
Just like they know where you are weak, everyone knows where you are strong and what things give you a decided edge. Flow out of it, certainly, but don’t flaunt it, ever. You don’t need to, and doing so only makes you look arrogant and conceited about your gifting. This paints your good with a negative color and destroys your credibility. Giving everyone your resume all the time makes you look insecure and desperate, and no one wants those characteristics in their leaders.
4. Be willing to accept legitimate criticism.
At times, it can be difficult to discern what is a legitimate criticism and what is just a difference of philosophy or operational opinion. The problem is further compounded by the fact that we all get naturally defensive when someone points out a weakness or mistake. Great leaders manage this tension with grace and do their best to find the good and receive it with an understanding heart. When we are open and not only receive criticism well but also grow from it, our credibility with others grows exponentially.
5. Be open to hear ideas from others.
I can’t tell you how many times I believed I had thought something completely through and then someone said something that brought an entirely new level of clarity to the situation, changing it for the better. Even when you are convinced of a direction, include others anyway. It will ultimately give them some ownership and elevate your credibility as a leader.
Now the confession: At times in my leadership life, I have been horrible at all of these things, but I am growing, learning, stretching and striving. A leader’s greatest challenge will always be his or her self. Never give up; it’s always a journey worth taking.
J. Mark Johns is the founder and president of Vital Vision International, a leadership development group with clients representing many facets of the business community. He is also lead pastor at Christ Central, a multi-site church with locations in Alachua and Gainesville.