Credibility In Leadership via Kouzes & Posner

The Truth About Leadership:  

The No-Fads, Heart-Of-The-Matter Facts You Need To Know

by James M. Kouzes & Barry Z. Posner

Chapter 2 Reflections

Seth E. Berg

Essential Learning:

Chapter Two of The Truth About Leadership cuts right to the point.  The foundation of the chapter is that credibility plays an essential role in effective leadership.  The chapter unfolds around the idea that believing in yourself is a great start, but that until others believe in you you’re not credible as a leader, and therefore not effective.  I appreciate that the authors go on to address the difference between being forced (or feeling forced) to follow and willingly following.  When people are so moved by credible leaders that they follow them “enthusiastically and voluntarily” organization tend to thrive.  Employees who believe in their organization’s leadership feel energized to contribute, they feel as though they have some stake in the outcomes they produce, and they are inspired to make incredible things happen.

Kousez and Posner point out that leadership is a relationship.  As with partners in any relationship, leaders are rightfully held to certain expectations.  Meeting those expectations is pivotal to the success of the relationship.  It is crucial that leaders are good for their word.  When credibility is diminished by consistent miscommunication and a lack of follow through, resentment and disillusion can mount.  Organizations suffer when their leaders are perceived to lack credibility.  Kousez and Posner conducted a pointed survey with tens of thousands of respondents identifying four primary characteristics that people admire in those who lead them.  According to the respondents, people want their leaders to be honest, forward-looking, inspiring, and competent.  Moreover, the authors contend that those are the characteristics of leaders who motivate people to work with passion and purpose.

Honesty is critical because people have to know that they can trust those who are setting the course.  Change is constant and can often times be intimidating.  Leaders must convey the clear message that they have “ethical principles and clear standards by which (they) live.”  Being honest is a holistic act.  Great leaders are honest with those that they serve and they are honest with themselves.  They understand their needs, their strengths, and their limitations.  They work and live with a deep knowledge of their own circumstances.  When they speak they truly subscribe to what they are saying.  Forward thinking leaders give people a sense that the future is positive and stable, those who inspire help people commit to that future while giving them reasons to feel comfortable in believing that it’s bright, and of course, competency produces confidence.  People especially admire leaders who have the competency to admit and articulate their challenges, and who are able to accept learning as an essential component of growth.

Finally, this chapter illuminates the indelible truth that great leadership is contagious.  Organizations that are well run and guided by people who are credible tend to be filled with credible leaders at all levels.  People in those types of organizations tend to expect credibility from one another regardless of the capacity in which they serve.  When the onus for being honest, forward-looking, credible, and inspiring comes from an effective leader who puts it on himself and lives it, those characteristics tend to spread, creating cultural norms that enhance his community and all of its stakeholders.

Highlights – Ten Quotes To Ruminate On:

1.  Leadership begins with you and your belief in yourself.  Leadership continues only if other people also believe in you.

2.  Leadership is a relationship between those who aspire to lead and those who choose to follow.

3.  In every relationship people have expectations of each other.

4.  Before anyone is willing to follow you – or any other leader – he or she wants to know that you are honest, forward-looking, inspiring, and competent.

5.  Being honest means telling the truth and having ethical principles and clear standards by which you live.

6.  (People) need to believe that you are worthy of your trust.

7.  To be honest with others also requires being honest with yourself and taking stock of what is truly important to you.

8.  You have to be candid with yourself about your strengths and limitations.

9.  If you don’t believe in the messenger, you won’t believe the message.

10.  Do what you say you will do.


I have worked in many organizations.  For better or worse, leadership has set the tone in each and every one.  The values of those who lead seem to permeate throughout, especially when their actions match those values.  Most recently I have been extremely fortunate to work in two elementary school communities whose leadership is outstanding!  Both communities are lead by administrators who deeply value collaboration.  Both administrations support and encourage leadership at all levels.  It’s exciting and empowering to know that my input is essential to the wellbeing of the community I serve.  I know many teachers in both buildings who spend time and exert energy well beyond what is contractually required because they understand the critical part they play in fostering a healthy and productive learning environment.  The lived values of these incredible leaders makes that possible.  I’ve heard stories of schools whose leaders stifle teacher contributions by micromanaging with an eye on targeting the negative.  Instead, they should be focused on collaborating and highlighting positive development.  In my experience, leaders who overtly addressing challenges as boons for adaptation and pathways to success gain credibility and inspire others to achieve!

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