No matter how impressive your resume is, you won’t succeed as a leader unless you’re believable. That’s why believable — along with able, connected and dependable — is one of the four cornerstones in the ABCD Trust Model featured in my book, “Trust Works! Four Keys to Building Lasting Relationships.”
Is being believable simply a matter of telling the truth? Certainly telling the truth is important, but it’s only the beginning. In “Trust Works!,” Cynthia Olmstead, Martha Lawrence and I identify seven best practices that will make you believable.
Keep confidences. If you can’t be trusted to keep a confidence, your believability will plummet. It’s an honor to be entrusted with sensitive information. Keeping information confidential demonstrates integrity and strengthens your relationships.
Admit when you’re wrong. Everybody makes mistakes, so it’s inevitable that at some point you’ll be wrong. For example, my 7-year-old grandson, Alec, tested my patience recently, and in a moment of frustration, I yelled at him and walked away. Suddenly I realized, “Blanchard, you’re supposed to be the ‘One Minute Manager.’ What is this, yelling at your grandson?” So I turned around and walked back to him. I got down on my knees to look him in the eye and said, “Alec, we can talk about your behavior later. But Grampy was wrong to yell, and I’m sorry.” He gave me a hug and said, “That’s OK, Gramps.” Having the humility to recognize and admit that you’re wrong will give others faith in your judgment and make you believable.
Be honest. When you have the courage to be honest — rather than taking the easy way out by bending the truth — you become someone people can believe in. Consider the very different responses by two U.S. presidents when faced with the temptation to be less than candid.
After his failed invasion of Fidel Castro’s Cuba in the Bay of Pigs fiasco, President John F. Kennedy took the blame and learned from the experience. Contrast that with President Bill Clinton’s response to the Monica Lewinsky scandal, where he initially denied a sexual relationship. By the time he admitted to “a terrible moral error” it was too late — he’d already lost his believability.
Be sincere. If you want to be believable, make sure the words coming out of your mouth match the feelings in your heart. We’ve all encountered people who lay on the charm and flattery but whose underlying motives are self-centered. Don’t let that be you. Smile with your eyes and not just your lips. Keep the promises you make, and mean the compliments you give. If you do, people will feel your sincerity and find you believable.
Avoid talking behind people’s backs. Want to lose people’s trust? Say something critical about them behind their back. Sheldon Harris, CEO of Complete Nutrition and former COO of Cold Stone Creamery, has a rule that nobody can talk about somebody else unless that person is in the room. He calls it integrity communication. If an employee starts to complain about someone, Sheldon says, “Let’s give them a call.” Sheldon reports that it’s a tough policy to initiate, but it’s one of the fastest ways to build believability and create a culture of trust.
Be nonjudgmental. There’s a difference between discernment and judgment. Discernment is a powerful tool that can help us navigate life. Judgment, on the other hand, causes us to make snap decisions that can work against us and undermine our relationships.
Show respect for others. When you think you are better than someone else, you’re at risk of losing your believability. A powerful example of this showed up in the news recently when Mike Jeffries, the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, explained why his stores do not offer plus sizes. “We go after the cool kids,” he said. “A lot of people don’t belong, and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.” The consumer hostility that followed demonstrates what happens when you don’t show respect for others.
Practice these seven tools. When you do, your believability will skyrocket, and your prospects for success as a leader will, too.