It All Matters

I have this thought that we all have have what I call a credibility bank. Every time we do or say anything either a deposit or withdrawal is made from our account. Every time! That means everything we say or do matters, all of it, all the time.

 

When we do what we say we will a small deposit is made. When we fail to do what we say, or we say something that doesn’t align with our stated values or principles, a very large withdrawal is made. So we get very little “credit” when we do what’s right but we are heavily penalized when we do what’s considered wrong. 

 

That almost doesn’t seem fair but it is what it is.

 

There are no neutral actions or interactions. Everything you do and say either improves your standing with others or lessons it to some degree. Everything you say and do either leaves a person feeling better about you and themselves or worse. 

 

Your words and actions matter, all of them. 

 

That’s why it’s so hard to pretend to be someone you’re not. Over time the real you comes out. You can fool some people for a long time but not for all time. 

 

That’s why I would always tell aspiring leaders not to try to look or act like a leader. Simply lead. Don’t try to be the kind of person someone would want to follow, be, really be, the kind of person someone would want to follow. 

 

Understand that your words and actions will determine whether or not you earn the opportunity to truly lead. If your credibility account drops too low that opportunity will be lost because without credibility you simply cannot lead.

 

Don’t let that happen to you. You are a combination of what you say and what you do, when those two align your credibility balance will grow by the day. If they don’t align it will drop like a rock.


It all matters!

Your Reputation Precedes You

I think I’ve written before about the fact that I attended a Military High School. It would be a bit of an understatement (okay, a huge understatement) to say that they took their discipline very seriously there. When a student messed up they paid a hefty price. Discipline came quickly and it was, at least in my opinion, often disproportionate when compared to the offense. 

 

But it worked. 

 

In my Freshman and Sophomore years I decided to “test” the system. Though the rules were very clear regarding attendance I decided to skip a class or two, well maybe three, here and there. I was caught every time and the punishment grew with each infraction. After my third attempt to beat the system I found myself in detention everyday after school for a month. 

 

I found a better way to beat the system in my Sophomore year but sadly, it wasn’t really good enough to get away with it. I fought the law and the law won. Once again I spent the last month of the school year in detention everyday after classes had ended.

 

By my Junior year I had learned my lesson. I was promoted to officer which was considered a big accomplishment for a Junior and I didn’t even consider skipping a class.

 

So imagine my surprise when I was called to the Principal’s office with about a month left in the school year and told I was being given detention for the rest of the semester. I protested and was told they “knew” I was skipping classes but had obviously finally figured out a way to get away with it. 

 

I was offered “amnesty” if I spilled the beans on how to get past their vaunted attendance process. Since I wasn’t skipping classes and hadn’t figured out how to beat the system I couldn’t  “accept” the amnesty. 

 

So off to detention I went. The good news is that since I was the only officer in detention I was now in charge of the other cadets in detention. Since I was wrongly accused and darn unhappy about it those poor souls probably had the worst time in detention in the history of detention. To be sure it wasn’t as brutal as flying on United Airlines but it was pretty rough. Such is life at a military school. 

 

That was the year when I learned about the concept of “your reputation precedes you.” 

 

In the business world you are what people think you are. Now I wouldn’t advise stressing over that too much but you do need to realize that it impacts how people perceive you. Their perception of you will change how you’re treated, whether or not you’re trusted, and whether or not you’re considered for advancement.

 

Now here’s the hard part that you may not like to hear; you earn your reputation. Even if you’re certain they are wrong about you that misperception likely came from somewhere. You can’t simply dismiss it without considering if there is any hint of truth to it. 

 

While it may not have been easy for me to accept at the time people thought I skipped classes because I was known to skip classes. The fact that I wasn’t skipping classes didn’t change the fact that I had. I earned that reputation. 


You’re creating history everyday…it’s your history. It’s also your responsibility to make it a history that you can be proud of. Never blame others for what they think of you without considering your role in creating that perception. 

 

By the way, despite perfect attendance in my Senior year I spent my final month of High School in detention after school. Once again I was in charge of the younger and lower ranking cadets. This time however I tried to help the cadets understand the benefits of conforming to requirements. I helped them grow, I probably didn’t do a very good job of it but I tried to help them become leaders. 


It was part of my effort to change some perceptions about me and it also happened to be the right thing to do. 

Trusted Leadership

Congratulations on having a big shot sounding title or a lofty position at some company. I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you’ve worked hard to earn your position and I’m also going to give you some advice: don’t screw it up.

Don’t screw it up by assuming that any title or position can make you a leader. Positions don’t make someone a leader and neither does a title. Saying you’re a leader doesn’t make you a leader either. 

In fact there is only one thing that can truly make you a leader and that’s followers. If no one is following you then you may occupy a leadership position but you are most certainly not a leader.

The privilege to lead, and make no mistake, leading is a privilege, cannot be given through promotion. The privilege to lead must be earned and it must be earned everyday.

People don’t follow positions or titles they follow people. Therefore, do not aspire to a position that people will have to follow. Aspire to be the type of person they will want to follow. 

If you’re wondering what makes a person “followable” (did I just make up another new word?) then just ask look at the people you’ve considered to be good leaders in your life.

Most likely you trusted them. I say that because people want, actually people need, a leader they can trust. Leadership without trust is like a car without gas, it might look nice but it doesn’t go anywhere. 

To build trust you should know, you need to know and you must know that everything you say and do either adds to or subtracts from your credibility. It all counts, every last word and action. If you’re not ready or willing to live under that kind of magnifying glass then perhaps you’re not ready to lead. 

The good news is that you don’t have to be perfect to lead; there are no perfect leaders on earth. But some leaders are better than others and one key thing that makes them better leaders is that more times than not, many more times in fact, their words and their actions match. 

To be a leader you must have a follower and for someone to be a true follower they must be committed to you as a leader. You should never believe, even for a moment that someone will commit to you if they can’t trust you. They may “follow from the edges” but that’s not at all the same as commitment. You must be clear on that fact or you’ll fool yourself into thinking you’re leading when you’re not.

Leadership works best when the leader sees the word trust as a verb rather than a noun. 

How do you see trust? 

What is This Integrity Thing?

Honesty. Credibility. Integrity. Many so called experts seem to think they are all basically the same thing. A horse a piece. Six of one, half dozen of the other. Apples to apples. No difference at all. 

I disagree. 

Integrity is deeply personal, it is who you are, inside. 

If matching your words and actions lead to credibility, as I believe they do, then integrity is when your words and actions BOTH match your deepest held beliefs. ALWAYS!

You see, you either have integrity all the time or you don’t have integrity at all. I completely understand that by that definition very few people truly have integrity. I also understand that I am NOT among those few. 

I’m a work in progress… deal with it.

I’m not writing this post to admit to or announce my shortcomings. Those who know me best are fully aware of my foibles of which there are many. 

I’m writing this so that whoever reads it can understand that they too are a work in progress and that it’s okay. While it doesn’t make you perfect it does make you human and that’s a good thing. There is no need to pretend that you are perfect, in fact, pretending that you are actually subtracts from your integrity.

 As I plan some personal goals for 2016 I’m going to work hard to see everyone else as the same work in progress that I am. I’m going to assume that they also want to be better and I’m going to cut them a whole lot more slack than I have in the past. I’ll bet I will be happier then when I hold others to standards that I can’t meet.

Never use the fact that you don’t have integrity all the time as an excuse for not having integrity at all. Fight to be the person you would admire, the person you can admire in every circumstance. You will fall short at times but don’t use that as an excuse for not trying. 

You and I may not have integrity according to my very tough definition but that doesn’t mean we can’t come closer to it than most. Do what you truly believe to be right, live your values, makes the tough, often less fun choices and you’ll be on your way to being the person you truly want to be.

How Much is Your Credibility Worth?

What’s your most prized possession? When you ask that question to a group of people you get some very interesting answers. You also get a lot of different answers, some very personal answers. 

You also discover that very few people say credibility. It’s not that they don’t value credibility, it’s just that most of us don’t think of credibility in terms of something we possess. Credibility is just something that exists, it’s just sort of there. We know it’s important, we want to be seen as credible, we want the people around us to be credible, we simply value credibility.

So we say.

But then we go out and do things that destroy our credibility. We say one thing and do another. We criticize someone for doing something as we’re doing the exact same thing. We behave or speak in a manner that we know is wrong, at least we know it’s wrong when somebody else does it. 

We say credibility matters but often act as if it doesn’t. 

There are literally a million ways for us to negatively impact our credibility but I’m going to focus on one because it’s so pervasive, maybe not as much as it used to be but I’d still bet it’s the number one destroyer of credibility today, especially in business circles.

It’s drinking while working. (DWW) Let me define drinking while “working.” If you’re with customers, co-workers, at an “after-hours”  work function, or just somewhere people you work with or for might be, you’re working. If you’re out in public wearing a shirt or jacket with your company’s logo on it, you’re working. If you’re sitting in an airport with your backpack next to you and your backpack has your business card attached to it, you’re working. I could go on but I think you get the idea, “working” goes way beyond sitting behind your desk at 3:00 in the afternoon.

If you believe for a minute that you can go out and get completely wasted with a group of your business associates or customers and not damage your credibility with them you are completely and totally wrong.

Credibility does not just exist, it is built and re-built everyday. The things, all things, that we say and do matter, they all count. Every single thing you say and do either adds to or subtracts from your credibility. I wish that wasn’t true but it is.

We can’t live 100% of the time being “careful” with what we say and do to protect our credibility. We are human beings, prone to doing and saying dumb stuff from time to time. Those dumb things will sometimes harm our credibility and no matter how hard we try to avoid them, they will happen.

Which makes DWW all the worse, it is a choice, at least it is for the vast majority of people. If the waiter came over at asked “what would you like to destroy your credibility tonight?” we might think twice before ordering. Unfortunately, they say, “what would you like to drink?”

Just how much is your credibility worth? One beer? Two or three? Maybe you’re a very credible person and yours is worth 10 or 12…. oh wait, it doesn’t work that way.

The more you drink while working the less credible you will be, if you want to argue that point go ahead and order another, it’s only your credibility. 

 

People Really Do Follow the Leader

Follow the leader isn’t just a children’s game. It’s a fact of life.

People really do follow the leader. They do what the leader does. They behave as the leader behaves. They act the way the leader acts.

They don’t very often do what the leader says, unless of course what the leader says is the same thing the leader does. As a leader, who you are makes a difference. The most important message you can share is yourself. Your people watch you constantly, they are watching to determine if you’re the type of leader they can trust. 

Here’s the most basic leadership equation of all: trust = follower-ship. Where there is no trust there can be no true following. True following comes from commitment and while a leader’s position may get them the compliance of their people only trust can earn commitment.

If a leader isn’t trusted by their people then don’t be surprised when the people aren’t trusted by the leader. People really do follow the leader.

Everything a leader says and does either adds to or subtracts from their “credibility bank.” Almost nothing is credibility neutral, everything matters. Authentic leaders know that and work to make certain that their words match their actions as much as possible. 

Let me say this as clearly as I can; if your credibility sinks low enough you may have a title or position of leadership but you’re not leading anymore. You can’t be leading because people can’t follow a leader with low credibility. If you have no followers then you’re not leading no matter what your business card might say.

People do follow the leader but only if that leader is a person they can trust. If you can’t pass the trust test then all your leadership efforts will come up short. Your vision will never be realized, your influence will be limited, and your success will be in doubt. 

If you want to be a leader that people will follow then don’t work for a position or title that people will “have to” follow. Instead work to become the type of person they will want to follow. 

Be the type of person they can trust! 

The Two Types of Truth

When what you do and what you say don’t match which one is the truth? Which one is the real you? How are people supposed to know? Do you even know? 

Is there a professional you and a personal you? A public you and a private you? Why are there two of you? 

I think we become two when we forget our Core Values, or worse, when we don’t know what they are to begin with. Just to be clear, Core Values are those values we hold which from the foundation of who we truly are. These are the values that are so primary and so important that even in a constantly changing world we still abide by them. These values determine how we work, how we interact with people and even which people we allow into our lives. They are the principles we use, or more likely, should be using everyday to determine how we live our lives. 

They also determine who we truly are. Truly!

It is far easier to talk about our Core Values than it is to put them on display. That’s why too often we appear to present two sides of truth: what we say are our values and what our values appear to be to others. 

Most people who see the two sides of your “truth” will just wonder which one is real. That “wonder” can cause doubt and doubt for a leader can be deadly. When your people don’t know which is real, what you say or what you do, they lose faith in your integrity and you lose the opportunity to lead. 

Authentic leaders live what they say. They know there is no stronger credibility than Core Values in action. Like my mom always said, “seeing is believing.” Once again this is where a mentor comes in handy, they care enough about you to call you on your two sides of truth. They won’t judge which one is right but they will cause you to choose between them.

Living our values is not easy, even our Core Values. No one is perfect and at times we will all slip. Core values, may not be at the top of our mind at all times but under pressure and duress they must be there.

As you decide to lead today, ask yourself which side of truth you will present today, the one you believe or the one you say you believe. The closer they are to one and the same, the closer you are to being an authentic leader.