The Three-Legged Stool of Credibility

By PAUL SAMUELS on MAY 21, 2015

Stabilize Your Credibility

Almost every junior executive wants leadership tips and training. Show me an executive who doesn’t want to learn, and I’ll show you a person soon to be collecting an unemployment check. Training and building credibility helps leaders do their jobs more effectively, which clears the path to higher echelons of management.

But the leadership tips divulged in training programs do not constitute a magic pill, secret formula or hidden technique that can transform even the dullest boss into a managing dynamo. That kind of transformation, if possible at all, takes hard work.

Why a Three-Legged Stool?

A three-legged stool is an apt metaphor for leadership training for two reasons:

  1. There are three primary components to managing excellence.

  2. It implies the importance of each leg.

This is one leadership tip you can take to the bank: every successful leader with any semblance of honesty will corroborate the three-legged stool analogy. While it’s not a short cut to success, it does help guide beginning leaders toward a promising career.

When you consider the three main things you need to become a successful manager, you soon will realize that all three are equally necessary. If you compromise one leg, you destabilize the entire stool. It, like your career, will come crashing down.

The Three “Legs” of Credibility

Credibility is such a vital component of managing people that I can’t imagine any executive getting ahead without it. Credibility evokes trust, which in turn motivates employees to do incredible things. Without credibility, there is no trust.

But, like any leadership tip, there’s a catch: developing credibility in an organization — especially in an organization you’ve just joined — is very difficult. It requires an honest, open communication style. It requires that you connect with people without trying to change them. Credibility requires constant reinforcement. One slip-up can destroy months, even years, of diligence.

So, if you want to build your credibility, here are the three legs of the stool you need to maintain:

  1. Character

  2. Sense of purpose

  3. Competence

Leg #1: Character

Leadership tip: trust your group

You may think “character” is difficult to define. It’s not, really, not in terms of this leadership tip. The Oxford English Dictionary defines character as: “the estimate formed of a person’s qualities.” I like this definition because it ascribes a person’s character by how others regard him, not how he sees himself.

Your character reflects your heart. You build character by dealing with people honestly, whether that person is your highest-paid employee or the waiter at an inexpensive restaurant. If you consistently do what you say you’ll do, people will regard you as a person of substance, someone with a set of ethics that won’t bend under pressure.

As I mentioned before, credibility evokes trust. It happens through your character. If you are trustworthy, people’s opinions of your character is raised. A person of high character can be trusted to do the right thing in virtually any situation. People of all stripes will follow such a person. Do you have the character it takes to become a successful leader?

Leg #2: Sense of Purpose

Leadership tip: have a sense of purpose

You can have good character and still not be a successful leader. For the three-legged stool to stand with this leadership tip, you also need a sense of purpose and the desire to pursue it. In other words, you must be driven.

As an executive, commit yourself to your company’s goals. Align yourself with its mission. Promise yourself you will work hard to achieve those goals, guided by that mission.

Only then will you be able to assemble the best team to help you. Only then will you be able to lead others toward the same goals. Only then will you be able to motivate them to consistently hit or exceed their targets, whether that’s more sales or more efficiency.

Your sense of purpose is in your hands. It is reflected in your ability to get things done. Being driven, combined with your character, leads to great accomplishments. With these two aspects, you won’t take short cuts, which may undermine your credibility. That’s a leadership tip worth its weight in gold. Too many managers think it’s acceptable to accomplish any goal no matter what the cost.

Leg #3: Competence

Further your education to increase your credibility

Your knowledge of your industry and your ability to lead are admirable traits because they add substance to your words and actions. If you have the knowledge to substantiate your leadership, your employees will trust you. A degree on the wall of your office does not magically make you competent. You must prove you have the knowledge needed to succeed in your role.

Credibility is worthless without the ability to actually lead and manage your employees. To gain their respect and unquestioned loyalty, a leader must have the knowledge of what must be done. A manager must know how to prioritize tasks and to communicate priorities effectively. This competence creates respect.

Your competence is in your head. It is the specific industry knowledge that helps you make the decisions that affect your company and your team. It’s your willingness to learn more and keep abreast of the latest trends. Prove your competence to your staff every day. Teach them to be better. Encourage them to surpass you. Feed their quest for knowledge.

You want a valuable leadership tip you can really use? Learn all you can about your job, your company and your industry. Embody competence in everything you do.

You Need All Three

Competence and a sense of purpose, without character, can be dangerous. Unscrupulous leaders rarely maintain management roles for long. They cross too many people or take too many short cuts.

Competence and character without a sense of purpose rarely accomplishes much. People may follow you for a time, but boredom can develop without accomplishments.

Character and a sense of purpose won’t get very far either. Being driven can only get you so far if you lack the majority of the skills needed to get there.

When you possess all three, however — character, competence and a sense of purpose — you have the credibility to manage and the traits to lead. There’s no leadership tip better than that.

Building Credibility

Credibility is a trait you build up, a little at a time, over the course of your career. Your credibility is reflected in the things you do, the things you say you’re going to do and the dedication you bring to each task. Build your three-legged stool of credibility and maintain it every day. It’s the one leadership tip you can’t do without.

Do you have another leadership tip? What’s your favorite? Share below in the comments!

The Author

Straight from the desk of

Paul Samuels

Paul Samuels

Executive Vice President

Paul began his career with Kimmel & Associates in 1987 and holds the distinction of being one of the most senior consultants in the company.

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