Building Credibility


Many people worry that not knowing something is a sign of weakness, and that if a leader seems not to have all the answers they will lose the confidence of their team. Such people try to pretend they have the answer in every situation, making things up if necessary and never admitting mistakes.

However, this approach ultimately backfires. Sooner or later people learn the truth and figure out that the person never admits when they don’t know. When this happens the person loses all credibility: no-one can tell whether the person is speaking from authority or making something up, so it isn’t safe to trust anything they say.

On the other hand, if you admit that you don’t know the answer, or that you made a mistake, you build credibility. People are more likely to trust you when you say that you do have the answer, because they have seen that you don’t make things up.

  3 comments for “Building Credibility

  1. MS
    20 Mar 2009 at 7:14 pm

    You’re quoting this with a tag of “Leadership” and yet you call the stuff in Randy Pausch’s book “pabulum” peddled under the guise of wisdom? This is common sense, spelled out for the slow learners. Would you mind adding a “Stupidity” tag for this post? It’s only fair out of respect for the dead…

  2. PE
    21 Mar 2009 at 7:09 pm

    Hi MS –

    Your experience may be different than mine…

    About 10 years ago, I had a boss who I thought was going to have a brain hemorrhage when I admitted in a meeting at which *her* boss was present that I didn’t know something. It was totally unacceptable! She was almost crying.

    She was an extreme case but I’ve worked with a lot of bluffers, in a lot of corporate cultures where it’s not okay to not know something.

    The most you could maybe get away with was “I’ll have to double-check that for you.”

  3. MS
    21 Mar 2009 at 9:34 pm

    I’ve worked with plenty of stupid people too. That still doesn’t make this any more profound. Now where is my “Stupidity” tag?

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