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The One Thing You Need To Create Change

Without this, you can forget about building a company, improving it, or leading it to greatness.
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There’s no guarantee that your attempts at change will be accepted. However, if you take the time to establish your credibility, you’ll raise the chances that your ideas will not only have a fair hearing, but also be implemented. 

At its essence, credibility represents the faith and trust that others have in your ideas and your intent. A change leader asks others to share risk and move beyond the status quo. To create change, you must rally others around your ideas, and that depends on your credibility.

How can you gain credibility?

You can’t take a course in it. You can’t buy it. Credibility is something that others confer on you.  As such, it is something that you must earn.

To do so, you must demonstrate four things:

Positional Authority Entrepreneurs would seem to have the ultimate positional authority: They started the company, and are often still the day-to-day leader. Having positional authority-;a position of power within your company or industry--may seem like an easy way to drive change.  It’s a shortcut to gaining a short-term support, but it is a questionable method of forming a long-lasting change effort. To effect lasting change, you will need to do more than rely on your title.

Personal Integrity You build your personal integrity every day.  If you do what you say, and take the time to build networks and alliances in a positive way, people will trust your intent. Your perceived personal integrity is a consequence of your history in your company, and positive personal qualities can help you overcome early resistance to your change effort.  However, if your reputation is less than stellar, you are going to have a harder time getting your ideas accepted.

Expertise and Knowledge  You have to be able to show that you know what you’re talking about-;you have to demonstrate your expertise. At some point, even those with both positional authority and personal integrity are going to have to demonstrate subject matter knowledge, and show that it’s relevant to your proposed change. There is no substitute for expertise.

Time and Opportunity Being “in the right place at the right time” is not a cliché. A synergy of time and opportunity will give you access to people, information, and knowledge that would otherwise not be available. This type of credibility is ephemeral. Be watchful for instances where you can make use of the credibility offered by time and opportunity, but know that this type of credibility is the least stable. You will need expertise, personal integrity, or positional authority to strengthen your case.

Pragmatic change leaders communicate a balanced picture of credibility with language and personal presentation.  If you are aggressive and overbearing, it is unlikely that you will develop deep support. If you rely only on your position, you may not get very far.  If you stress your personal integrity, you run the risk that others will see you as self-righteous.  If you overplay expertise, others may dismiss you as arrogant. If you play the “right- place-at-the-right-time” card, others may view you as opportunistic. 

To be an effective change leader, remind others of your positional authority if you have it, demonstrate your personal integrity every day, reiterate your expertise and knowledge when it’s legitimate, and let them know that you-;and the company-;can take advantage of being at the right place at the right time. Don’t make too much of any single source of credibility. Communicate your credibility and good intentions with self-assured subtlety.

Last updated: Mar 19, 2013

SAMUEL B. BACHARACH | Columnist | Director, Cornell's Institute of Workplace Studies

Samuel B. Bacharach is the McKelvey-Grant professor in the department of organizational behavior at Cornell University's ILR School, and is director of Cornell's Institute for Workplace Studies in New York City. Among his books are Get Them on Your Side and Keep Them on Your Side. His latest volume, A Good Idea Is Not Enough: Leading for Change and Innovation, will be published this November by BLG.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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