Of all the traits that make a leader appreciated and "known," there is one that, in my mind, stands above the rest.
For someone to follow a leader through the trenches and into the mountains of success, of course there has to be ambition. Of course that leader needs to be driven, focused, dedicated and persistent. But without credibility, and a deep feeling of trust that this person is worth following in the first place, no amount of drive will keep people around through thick and thin.
In fact, a lack of credibility can do quite the opposite.
It can turn people against you.
This is a topic I discuss at length in my book, All In, because I believe it's so important. See, credible leaders don't insult, manipulate, or humiliate anyone--publicly or privately. These leaders are aware that respect is key in gaining people's loyalty and respect in return. And it's through their subtle, consistent actions that they begin to earn credibility as a leader over time. They don't tell their employees, their partners, or their peers how trustworthy they are. They simply act in ways that allow for moments of trust to compound upon each other, showing people who they are more than telling them.
What are some ways you can begin earning credibility for yourself as a leader?
1. Become an expert in your field.
No one wants to follow a leader that touts their title but doesn't have the slightest clue what is going on.
I believe this is why so many people respected (and continue to respect) Steve Jobs. He was not a suit-wearing executive that barked orders about products he knew nothing about. Instead, he spent a considerable amount of time in the trenches with the designers, the engineers, and remained a true practitioner of his craft.
Some leaders begin their journey as a talented individual seeking to "scale" their own expertise. Others are thrust into a position of leadership and have to put themselves in the weeds in order to get an accurate sense of the product or service. Regardless of which direction your path takes you as a leader, it's absolutely crucial that you never get too distanced from the core of the work.
Otherwise, you're just a talking head.
2. Let your actions speak louder than your words.
No one wants to follow a leader that makes promises they can't keep.
Some of the worst leaders I know tell employees they're going to give them raises long before they know for sure whether or not the company can afford it--or worse, whether or not the employee's performance warrants it. These are moments where a leader is compromising the long-term opportunity to gain trust for the short-term benefit of injecting a bit of excitement into their team.
But 9 times out of 10, these short-sighted decisions do the opposite of build trust. They end up giving people reason to resent you--and that's the last thing you want as a leader.
3. Hold yourself as accountable as you could hold anyone else.
No one wants to follow a leader that can see what everyone else is doing wrong, but can't find a single thing wrong with their own day-to-day actions.
So many leaders I know mistake "taking accountability" with appearing weak or incompetent. They think that if they say, "I could have done that better," they're really showing a chink in their armor and giving their team a reason to question whether they're the right person for the job.
In reality, by being able to take accountability and own up to your own mistakes, you're actually creating an environment for others to do the same. You're letting people know that, as the leader, you're willing to examine yourself and look for areas of improvement--which shows people how to do the same.
Remember: a leader that lives by the phrase, "Do as I say, not as I do," isn't a leader at all.