When you speak, do people listen? …Do you have the ability to sway a room? …Will you be trusted with your organization’s next big project?
The answer to all these questions depends on one thing: our credibility. With it, we have influence; without it, we have none.
Over the years I have had the privilege of being part of and leading many different teams. During this time, I had my fair share of experiences where I spoke up in a meeting and nobody listened. Or, I volunteered to take the lead on a project or initiative, but was turned down.
It took me a while, but I finally realized the problem was not with my superiors (who were turning me down), but myself. Although I was as competent as everyone else and was certainly a team player, I lacked one fundamental thing: I failed to build credibility with those around me.
I made the mistake of assuming others would just give me credibility. However, credibility is not given, but built.
How to Build Credibility In Any Situation
Credibility is the confidence that others place in what we say and do — it is what gives us influence. Here are some surefire tips that will help you build credibility in any situation.
Don’t Assume Credibility
When we step into a new position or job we often assume we have credibility on day one, but that just isn’t the case. I have been in multiple leadership and management positions over the years and not once did I have credibility on day one. My resume and past experience certainly created expectations for me to meet, but there is a big difference between expectations and credibility.
A huge mistake someone could make in this situation is to assume that their title gives them credibility. Credibility does not come from a title, but from people. When others choose to extend credibility to us, that is when we get it. Nothing more, nothing less.
Rapport Comes First
The best way to get others to extend credibility to us is for us to develop a rapport with them. A genuine rapport encourages others to actively listen to what we have to say and to back us up both at the “water cooler” and in “meetings.”
A great tool we can use to build rapport is an understanding of our Emotional Intelligence (or EQ). There was an explosion of research over the past few decades on this topic and it found that people’s decisions are driven by emotions just as much (if not more) than logic or reason.[1, 2]
Those who practice Emotional Intelligence are consistently the top performers in their field and make on average almost $30,000 more in annual salary than those with low EQ.
In other words our emotional intelligence (or EQ) matters a lot, perhaps even more than our intellectual intelligence (or IQ) when it comes to building rapport.
Figure 1: The Benefits of Emotional Intelligence
Poet and civil right activist, Maya Angelou, exemplifies the importance of our emotional side in this powerful quote:
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou
In addition to building rapport, we also need to demonstrate our competence. Our competence is composed of two things: our expertise and our track record.
So many times in our careers we run into situations where we must grow to continue to do our job well. Our expertise may have been sufficient in the past but it seems that every year technology or globalization changes the game on us, as a result we must continuously develop our skills to be successful.
Figure 2: The Learning Curve
Nicholas Petrie, a senior faculty at the Center for Creative Leadership, demonstrates through his research how we plateau if we never upgrade our skills (green line above). Plateauing is a big problem in todays rapidly changing world because it means we are actually becoming less valuable every single day. The gap between our old skills and the new skills required to keep pace with the changing marketplace is always getting bigger.
Every day we don’t grow or learn something new, our expertise becomes a little less valuable and a little more irrelevant.
Stepping back to Leap Forward
The only remedy for this is to be comfortable stepping out of our comfort zone. When we try new things for the first time, we often do them poorly. This is usually due to a lack of practice. But, thankfully we have the power to change this.
We must be willing to do things poorly long enough for us to learn how to do them well.
I understand that this is not easy because doing things poorly feels like muddying up our track record — that “beautiful” thing that we worked so hard to build — but that is simply not true. Our track record is our ability to deliver results on things we have expertise in. It is not our setbacks while trying to learn new skills that will upgrade our expertise.
Credibility is absolutely essential to leadership, it is what give us a “seat at the table.” To build credibility with others, we must start by building rapport. This will serve as the bridge through which all other interactions take place. Next, the rapidly changing world we live in demands that we continuously grow our expertise. In so doing, most of us have to take a step back to take a step forward, but even though this feels like messing up our track record of success, it is not. Rather, it will enable us to grow new skills that will further increase our competence, and subsequently our credibility.
- Goleman, Daniel. Emotional intelligence: why it can matter more than IQ. London: Bloomsbury, 2010.
- HBRʼs 10 must reads on emotional intelligence. Boston (Massachusetts): Harvard Business Review Press, 2015.
- “Emotional Intelligence (EQ) Stats.” emotionallintelligence.net, accessed 22 Dec 2017, www.emotionalintelligence.net.
- Nicholas Petrie. “Four Steps for Leadership Resilience.” NicholasPetrie.com, accessed 22 Dec 2017.
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