In a previous article The Fast Path to Credibility, I suggest that well-communicated empathy will get you a long way to gaining trust. This is fundamental stuff, and I feel safe saying that anyone who hasn’t started the practice will benefit immensely and immediately by starting now.
What about black-belt credibility? There are times when being believed is not enough. There are times when you need to change minds and inspire action.
Credibility means people believe you. Ass-kicking credibility means they trust you enough to follow you.
If you want to be a credible leader, the first thing you need to do is drop any reliance on the following common fallacies:
- I experienced it; therefore, it must be true.
- I can’t experience it; therefore, it can’t be true.
- I have a strong reaction; therefore, my opinion is important.
- I’m being authentic; therefore, I’m being truthful; and so, I must be right.
These misconceptions are very seductive and lead to delusions of credibility. If you are going to convince someone to follow your lead, it’s true that enthusiastic, single-mindedness might get you a few followers, and with a good dose of charisma you could start a nice cult, but long-lasting credibility comes from something bigger than your own point of view.
Sure Signs of Ass-Kicking Credibility
Do you want to be considered an admirable leader in your field? Do you want to attract people with high integrity? Of course you do.
Just as there is no quick route to a black belt, there is no easy path to ass-kicking credibility. It takes deliberate practice, a lot of bruises, and a good dose of ambition. Experts aren’t born; they train, they test, they tune their practice so they excel. Here are some sure signs that people know their stuff. These qualities are not easy to develop, but they stick, and they change the nature of how you see the world and how others see you— in my opinion— for the better.
- Eloquently argue all sides. Extending well-communicated empathy, credible people know how to articulate all sides of a story, especially the irrational ones. The most common reasons people resist change are emotional ones. Do your research. Understand and articulate an idea from many angles and include the powerful, emotional content people use to stay anchored to their own versions. Here’s that link again.
- Associate with other credible people. Your associates reflect your own credibility so pick them for their integrity. Even when credible people disagree with each other, they enhance each others’ credibility. Sharpen your knowledge and skills by engaging with people who may change your mind. You will probably learn the most from credible people who see the world differently.
- Never get personal. Credible people stay focused on the argument, not the human making it. Politicians are trying to win a fight, not believers, so personal attacks are key to their success (unfortunately). Credible people don’t take swipes.
- Avoid telling people they are wrong. People who need convincing are not going to be convinced just because you tell them they are wrong, even if they are. Treat them like intelligent people, even if they seem closed-minded. You don’t gain credibility by coming across as a snooty pants.
- Take the role of Adult in the Room. You don’t have to be unemotional to be mature, but you need to take responsibility for the group you are part of. Don’t let others derail conversations. When discussions get heated or people lose control, ask yourself, what would a grownup do?
- Don’t exaggerate. Use real-life examples. Lean on facts. When faced with exaggerations, people feel manipulated. Small exaggerations are the most tempting and the most undermining to your credibility. Remember Hillary Clinton’s story about coming “under sniper fire” in Bosnia? It was small lie that tainted her credibility, even with her biggest admirers.
- Know what you don’t know. There is nothing more that shows confidence than acknowledging what you don’t know. An expert that is willing to ask the dumb question bumps his ratings. However, don’t overdo it. Donald Rumsfeld in a moment of public humility revealed the complexity of intelligence gathering by describing the problem with “unknown unknowns.” I think he bought credibility with some of his critics, but his esoteric reference was lost on the general public.
- Follow through. Probably the biggest factor in credibility is follow-through. Do what you say you will do. Do you best to do what you say people should do. While a Nobel Prize is up there with ass-kicking, what if Al Gore had taken his Inconvenient Truth tour by bicycle instead of private jet? Be a role model.
- Learn when to break all these rules. Let’s face it, people with black belt, ass-kicking credibility know when and how to exaggerate, attack someone personally (see a-holes), and deny what they don’t know, but they save it up for the right moments. Do you really know when to unleash these beasts? It’s probably not when you are most tempted.
For your followers, make the next step obvious
With ass-kicking credibility comes the responsibility of ass-kicking leadership. Once you change minds, you need to show the better way, and the best way to do that is through clear, motivating goals. Here are a few articles to help you craft goals when you have credibility on your side:
A special treat for reading this far
As an entertainer, action choreographer, stuntman, martial artist, and comic director, Jackie Chan has ass-kicking credibility. His integrity was born from hard work, credible role models, and a relentless pursuit of expertise. He’s made lots of mistakes. His work is never perfect, and that makes him even more credible as an innovator. For example, his movie Rumble in the Bronx was filmed in Vancouver. The criminals are incredible, that is, completely unbelievable, as are the mountains behind the skyscrapers, but look at the comic choreography, timing, and creativity in this clip. He’s completely credible in that realm!
NOTE: Most of my negative examples are acts by politicians. Their profession lives in the land of temptation so their credibility is always being tested. Their failures are public examples we can all learn from.