Leadership Credibility: The Right To Lead?

A few questions that I have been recently pondering.

How do you know that you have leadership credentials?

What gives us the right to lead others?

How do we know if our leadership is effective – how is leadership development success measured?

I had a coffee last week with Steve, someone who I was meeting with for the first time. Overall the meeting went well and we discussed many thoughts, concepts, real-life scenarios and philosophies regarding work culture and leadership. We covered background information and work history, along with discussion about values and motivations. Overall, it was a fantastic discussion and I felt a natural level of affiliation with Steve as we held many similar views.

During our chat though, he asked a great question. Considering my passion for leadership development it is a great point – possibly the most relevant question to be asked and it is something that I have thought about since.

What qualifications or credentials do I have that allow me to focus on leadership development?

I explained that I have formal qualifications and regularly coach, mentor and train others in effective leadership, having done so for many years. I have a passion for leadership and have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to contribute to the development of many leaders throughout my career. This passion led to the creation of CoachStation in 2010 targeting leadership development as a brand and niche’ market. All things I am very proud of and have worked hard towards but…the question still lingered – what credentials or qualifications do I really have to develop leaders?

I recognise that there is no right or wrong answer, however I have had many thoughtful moments over the weekend seeking to clarify this for myself:

Possessing the formal education, experience, theory and practical elements of development over many years and subsequently development of others is critical to answering this question. It would be easy to state the obvious that learning and experience are the only contributors and leave it at that, however they are not the only relevant points.

It is how leaders act each day through displayed behaviours and actions that people assess and make judgments on. Role-modeling effective leadership traits is important. Applying leadership skills in practice and showing others provides an example for people to follow and/or aspire towards. Having the theoretical knowledge is not enough. People want to see that what is done matches what is said – credibility is king!

Being comfortable in knowing that a leader does not have all the answers. In recent years I have become accepting of this point, but it has not always been that way. My personal and professional maturity has grown so that I have greater awareness of my strengths and developments, work regularly on both and accept it is OK to be imperfect. Coincidentally, this is a core aspect I have found assists others along their leadership development journey, particularly early in our discussions.

I recognise the more I know, the more I don’t know and the more I want to know.

A continuous learning philosophy is a part of who I am, not just what I do. Reading, practicing, succeeding, discussing, teaching, coaching, mentoring, facilitating and failing many times over are all part of my learning. Sometimes the messages have been hard to accept, but they are always worthwhile.

A genuine care for other people. A want to give to and help others – in fact, a core attribute or value that I have learned about myself is that I need to give to others. I always try to balance this need with other aspects of my life to ensure that it is a healthy, positive trait, however I know it is a core motivator for me. The most effective leaders are those who genuinely care for their team members and colleagues. It is not enough to learn to care – the most effective leaders I have seen care because it is part of who they are, not what they have learned to do.

Live the message: ‘Give a person a fish, feed them for a night. Teach a person to fish and feed them for a lifetime’. Teach people to fish. It should permeate through a leaders values and be reflected in what they say and do.

Importantly, I recognise that I am still learning to fish. This doesn’t stop me from helping people learn how to bait a hook and cast the line along the way.

It may be a bit of a cliché however being respected and sought out for assistance is a core measurement of leadership success and credibility. I am exceptionally fortunate to be in a position to assist others as part of my role, as a result of my reputation and relationships in and out of my workplace. This is not about being liked – it is more about others feeling like they can approach a leader and will be better off for having a conversation or series of focused meetings with someone they trust and respect. This is one of the more satisfying responses to the question for me. Reputation, trust and the ability to help others is self-fulfilling – the more it happens, the more it happens. People talk and share – this can work for you or go against you, depending on who you are and how you are viewed.

The above points are not conclusive. I recognise there are possibly dozens more answers, reasons, attributes and drivers but I feel that these are my core contributors. The ultimate answer to the question, what are the qualifications to teach others about leadership is actually best answered by others. I will return to this point in a moment.

A few years ago I met with another person and being our first meeting, was a sounding out and observing one another scenario. He asked me a question that, although different to that asked by Steve, has great relevance to this theme. I was asked me if I thought I was a good leader?

At face value this is an obvious question in the work context I was in and certainly relevant, considering our relationship. It was more than that for me though and has been a question I have asked myself often since. We discussed several aspects and views of what good leadership is and again, shared many philosophies. Overall, a great discussion triggering the beginning of a great relationship that continues today.

The ultimate response that can be applied to this question is best answered by others. It is not avoiding the question or an acknowledgment of irrelevance. The very essential elements of leadership – the measure of effectiveness, credibility and judgment that provides an answer to leadership effectiveness actually comes from those you lead!

The genuine joy, pleasure, validation, satisfaction and reward that I get from developing others cannot be described to someone else. It is something that needs to be felt. It is humbling. It fulfils. It is something that gets to the core point about development.

When you get to the stage when you realise that there is greater satisfaction and joy in the returns you get from helping and developing other people, it is hard not to want more. It has greater depth than taking – it is addictive!

It is also what colleagues, peers, team members and other people can and do see in their leaders every day to varying degrees. Effective leaders portray this in what they say, what they do, how they do it and how they make others feel. It is not a black art. It is no mystery, but it takes time and effort to grow to a point where you genuinely ensure it is how you operate consistently.

The credentials, the right and the opportunity to lead is judged and assessed every day. Effective leadership is measured by the difference you make through and with others. The answer to both questions though, is answered best by those around you.

Regularly assess your leadership effectiveness through measures beyond your own internal reflections and view. If you are unsure, ask. It is guaranteed that your people will have a view – whether you know what that is is up to you!

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