Today’s Saturday Book Review: Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It. Written by James Kouzes and Barry Posner, this book distill some of their data from tens of thousands and counting interviews with people across the world in multiple industries to write Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It. This book is a course on leadership, especially if you study their bibliography (208 Endnotes). You can also read this with the resource The Leadership Challenge.
Kouzes and Posner “relied upon our own surveys, which over the years have been administered to well over 100,000 people from around the world.” They claim that the results of the studies have not changed since they started in the early 1980s. They cover those surveys and in-depth analysis with their encyclopedic book; in this book they cover the 6 essential activities they see credible leaders providing in their surveys.
The Six Disciplines for Earning and Sustaining Credibility
Kouzes and Posner are excellent prose writers; some of this book is very hard to read, but it is all valuable. A discipline is an activity that you improve with practice, and the core of Credibility are the disciplines listed below:
- Discover Your Self
- Appreciate Constituents
- Affirm Shared Values
- Develop Capacity
- Serve a Purpose
- Sustain Hope
Discover Your Self
The classic statement from Delphi and the oracle of Apollo is to Know Yourself, and this statement is as needed today as it was then. If a leader is going to be believable to your constituents, you need to believe what you’re selling, yourself.
If you have ever read Joy Starts Here, another book for another Saturday, you will know that shared appreciation is tremendous! It builds joy skills, develops our neural pathways, and establishes credibility. In this chapter, Kouzes and Posner discuss how to show appreciation that aligns with your shared values, while embracing conflict and engendering trust.
It is difficult to think about how to hold these positions in tension with each other, but Kouzes and Posner tell many stories of how leaders do just that.
Affirm Shared Values
This chapter starts with a tremendous story of a village elder who lived on the mountainside. One day he noticed that an earthen dam upstream from the village was about to give way. He thought through what he could do to save the lives of the people in his village, and he lit his own house on fire. The whole village rushed up the mountain to save his house, and in doing so all their lives were saved from the flood.
Shared values are important for credibility because you are able to trust how people within a group will act in a given situation.
The two activities that develop capacity that resonated with me were to foster confidence and create a climate for learning. I have been a part of many organizations where employees were put down or disciplined for systematic mistakes. This removed confidence and create a climate where true learning was feared. If you want to develop capacity in an organization, team or just among your friends, find a way to help them feel more confident and free to “take chances, make mistakes, get messy!” To borrow from one of my children’s favorite shows.
Serve a Purpose
Kouzes and Posner wait until 2/3rds of the way through the book to introduce a concept that was a buzz word in many leadership circles for some time, “servant leadership.” One of the key activities that I appreciated in this chapter was the fact that leaders who are serving a purpose beyond themselves will do what it takes to restore credibility once it is lost.
The final of the disciplines a credible leader will engage in is sustaining hope. This chapter is key to the fact that leaders are often called to go it alone but need to have a hope in the vision they see; when hope stops and forward activity stop, the leader loses a key attribute of what it means to be a leader, to be forward-looking.
This book is a great resource for people who are looking to become a better leader. But, I must warn you that it is not an easy or fast read. A notebook of notes or video journaling your thoughts as you read through it could be a good way to get more out of the dense and content-rich reading.