Credibility and Followers
As discussed in Chapter 5, the leaders’ behavior, whether credible or not, influences their followers’ behavior. Credible leaders are able to inspire others to trust them and believe in who they are and what they do (Allgeier, 2009). Bad leaders inspire poor follower behavior. “Bad leaders cultivate their in-groups with favors, and that makes it difficult for outsiders to identify bad leaders, or for followers to dislodge the leader from the position of power,” wrote Dr. Ronald Riggio, Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology and former Director of the Kravis Leadership Institute at Claremont McKenna College. “The ingroup followers defend the leader and work to keep him or her in power. Bad leaders often exist because their followers allow them to remain” (Riggio, 2009). Like poor parents setting bad examples for their children, I have known senior leaders who scream and yell at their “in-group” project leaders, and then I witnessed those project leaders scream and yell at their team members. I am sure you have witnessed similar events.
Most people do not want to follow this type of leader. They want to follow a leader who cares and who is involved, a leader who is not afraid to get his or her hands dirty. Leaders who do not ask followers to do anything that they would not do themselves build credibility (Allgeier, 2009).
Credibility is not connected to position or status (Allgeier, 2009). Credible leaders not only rely on their position to influence followers—leaders who have proven themselves to be credible inspire confidence in those around them. By delivering time and time again, by being accountable, and by remaining competent, a leader earns the trust of team members, senior leaders, and stakeholders. This leader’s recommendations will be heard. By demonstrating respect and tolerance for the social styles of others, leaders earn the respect of their colleagues.
Respect for Others
No one has perfect personal credibility, but I find it especially hard to deal with those who are disingenuous, who intentionally present information out of context in order to attempt to gain an advantage and to further their own agenda. They knowingly revise history to suit their needs, exercising selective amnesia, remembering what they choose to remember and forgetting what they choose to forget. They paint misinformation the same color as the ground truth. They goad you into emotional reactions with personal attacks against you and your staff and take pleasure from their ability to use intimidation, agitation, and confusion to strengthen their position and weaken yours. These nasty people have no concern for ethics or personal accountability. They congregate together—the more senior ones hire those who are like them, and then they train the more junior ones to be like them.
In my first position as an IT manager, I was responsible for all of the information technology systems at a US Air Force facility. This was during the early 1990s, and the Air Force was just starting to deploy networks at all bases. The requirements grew faster than my staff, and we found ourselves working long hours to satisfy all of our customers. It was a labor of love, though, because it was all brand new and exciting. My boss saw everything we were doing and how we were trying to address all of the needs of the organization, from the lowest administrative assistant to the commander, every day. He came to the conclusion that I was “too nice.” He felt that I was naive and that people were taking advantage of me, making it difficult for me to prioritize my work. I did not feel that way, but I took this senior leader’s advice to heart. Soon, an administrative assistant asked me for help, and then asked me to do a little more training than I normally provided, which would have taken more time. I don’t remember what I said in response, but I remember being mean. I don’t even remember if what I said to her was true, but I do remember that my response upset her. I remember that it damaged our relationship. I was true to my boss and his advice, but I was not true to myself. This incident lasted less than 20 minutes, but it has haunted me for more than 20 years. I did not behave like the real me, and I diminished my personal credibility. I made up my mind after that incident to always make an effort be true to myself regardless of the advice from senior leaders.
You can be more respectful than I was. You can be successful as an IT leader without disrespecting others, inflicting emotional pain, and damaging your credibility. When you disrespect others, you may suffer the punishment of social isolation (Reynolds, 2012). You don’t have to face the isolation that comes with this approach to life and work. All leaders have choices. Instead of choosing to be disingenuous, you can choose to be authentic. Instead of misrepresenting information, you can be honest and transparent. You can be ethical and credible, respecting others so that they will respect you. As a result, you will feel better about yourself and others will feel better about you.