Credibility is earned: ‘Do what you say you will do’

Credibility is the currency most people want. Like dollars in the bank, credibility can be spent in the company store. When you need to get buy-in on a new idea, others are more willing to get behind it. When a new position is available, your name can be advanced as a candidate others can safely support. If you disagree with a decision made by senior management, they are more willing to listen to your argument.

But having credibility can be as elusive as having sex appeal. Some people seem to have it and some don’t. Some had it but lost it. So, how do they get it? Is it who they know? What they know?

Here are some building blocks of credibility that anyone can work on:

  • Speak up for what’s right for the organization. This is harder than it appears, isn’t it? We all have vested interests and our own perspectives. But if you consistently weigh all sides of an issue against what’s right for the organization, you will become the trusted one. When colleagues talk about you, they will say, “He has no hidden agenda,” “She always takes a balanced view, even if that view isn’t going to be in her favor.”
  • Speak honestly and openly, even when you are talking to leaders above you. This takes guts and a steel backbone. Obviously, you want to do it with tact and diplomacy, so they can swallow what you are saying, but if you speak candidly, they will seek out your opinion, and so will everyone else. So few people are candid and open to those above them, you will distinguish yourself quickly.
  • Do what you say you will do. The more you get things done, the more others will try to give you. This is a trap. You will lose credibility if you start dropping balls, or you begin to get a reputation for trying to do too much. It’s much better to say, “I only want to take on what I can promise to get done. This is what I know I can get done…here’s what I don’t think I can get to.” Or, “I will have to drop (or reduce) X or Y in order to get that done. Which way would you like me to go?” Telltale signs of overload are: Getting impatient; being unavailable; not being responsive; hearing feedback that you are micromanaging; working longer hours than most people; and feeling scattered.
  • Admit what you don’t know. One of the biggest credibility killers is trying to bluff your way through a question or a task. It becomes transparent very quickly and you go back two points and lose a turn in the credibility game. Too many of those blunders and you are off the board. This is particularly true during a presentation. If you are asked a question you aren’t sure of, simply say, “I’m not sure about the answer but I will get it for you.” You get to stay in the game. Above all, people want to know they can rely on you and your information.
  • Don’t carve your initials in your boss’s desk. In other words, focus on doing your own job well. If you appear too ambitious, colleagues won’t trust your motives. There’s nothing wrong with discussing your career aspirations but gunning for them too aggressively will put people off. They will question your judgment because they will presume you are auditioning for the next job, rather than performing well in the one you have.
  • Develop expertise but don’t act like a know-it-all. True experts always stay open to the ideas of others because they want to add to their own knowledge base. They also know that all their technical knowledge is useless if they don’t collaborate with others to implement solutions. People who act like the smartest person in the room inevitably isolate themselves and often derail their own careers.

Joan Lloyd is an executive coach, organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Email your question to Joan at, visit to search an archive of more than 1400 of Joan’s articles. (800) 348-1944 © Joan Lloyd & Associates, Inc.

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