John WilkinsKnowledge ManagementLeadership
January 20, 2016

Bridging the credibility gap

By: John Wilkins

A leader’s credibility begins with personal success. It ends with helping others achieve personal success. – John Maxwell

In 1966, U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy made an influential visit to South Africa. He offered words of hope to opponents of apartheid in his famous “Ripple of Hope” speech at the University of Cape Town:

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

At times in this world, hope seems scarce. Governments that lose credibility lose the quality of being trusted and believed. Middle managers who have scant regard for credibility lose the quality of being convincing or believable. In credibility, the hopeless find hope.

In’credible teamwork

Creative teams can create all day long. But innovation matters less when the rest of the organization does not trust them. When credibility erodes, it creates barriers for creators and their creations. Creative ideas and results become creations for vanity’s sake if not shared.

So how is credibility protected? What traps can damage credibility inside organizations? Here are ten habits that will ensure credibility for middle managers and their teams:

  1. Avoid hype. The old adage is ‘never read your own press’ ⎯ good or bad. Accepting praise also means setting expectations for accepting failure. Balance is found in remembering the work, process and team. Effective teams celebrate wins and learn from losses.
  2. Keep creating. New ideas and creations refresh the team and others with whom it works. When elements are repeated or reused, future creativity and innovation may be compromised. A small shortcut can impair the creative culture of organizations.
  3. Continue learning. Researching what others are doing and what is working is essential to studying your sector. New-agers also know where art is going and how technology can be leveraged. Those who read a lot and keep learning stay sharp and creative.
  4. Respect others. No one wants to work with difficult people. Eventually, the pain of trying to work together transcends talent and isolates malcontents. People judge themselves on intention and others on action. Always treat people how you would want to be treated.
  5. Stay flexible. Flexibility and creativity go hand in hand. When teams stop being flexible, they strangle the creative process. Fighting for ways to be flexible creates space for creativity.
  6. Meet deadlines. Managing time encompasses the entire scope of the project. When teams fail to plan, they hurt the best creative ideas. Finding ways to work farther ahead on projects creates space to breathe and to produce the best work, not just the fastest.
  7. Keep promises. Overpromising and underdelivering are unsustainable. Failure to keep promises hurts relations and results every time. Never make promises over which the team has no control.
  8. Ask questions. If teams stop asking questions, they ignore possibilities. Curiosity and inquisitiveness make every project better. There are no dumb questions.
  9. Stress positivity. Teams need to watch out for the first hint of negative thinking. Every problem is an opportunity. The default response should be to proclaim “yes we can”.
  10. Learn humility. Involving and listening to people with experience is good practice. Teams do not always have to be right. They just have to have a great attitude and be willing to adapt to get things done. Taking time to make corrections can avoid heading down the wrong path.

In’credible middle managers

Pioneering CBS broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow declared: “To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; to be credible we must be truthful.”

In the Mi’kmaq tradition of smudging, sweet grass smoke is wafted with an eagle’s feather in sequence above the head, heart, eyes, ears and feet. The smudge cleanses negativity and brings positive thoughts, feelings, sights, sounds and grounding. Practitioners are then better prepared to respond in peace and friendship to the challenges ahead.

Middle managers lead teams that thrive in an environment of continuous change and challenge. They bridge gaps in public service culture and capacity to remedy deficits in trust, confidence and enthusiasm. The incredible ones succeed when they “walk the talk” and give hope to others.

John Wilkins is Associate Director, Public Management with the Schulich School of Business, York University (jwilkins@schulich.yorku.ca). He was a career public service manager in Canada and a Commonwealth Diplomat.

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