5 Ways to Build Credibility

Leadership is challenging enough when you know what you are doing.  But when your teammates happen to have more knowledge or experience than you do, it can get a little tricky, especially in the early days.

It’s OK, though – it turns out that there are lots of ways to address this situation quickly and effectively.  In this second of two posts I’ll talk about five positive steps you can take right away to help you establish credibility and become an effective leader of your experienced team.

What to do...When they know more than you... (1)

First Things First

In the first post of this series, we recognized that when you have a significant knowledge or experience gap, it’s not something you will be able to overcome overnight.

A better strategy is to focus on building relationships with the key influencers on your team.  By doing this, you may gain their support, access their expertise, and buy time while you are coming up to speed in other areas.

Build Credibility

Everything else you do really amounts to one thing:  building credibility.  If your team develops confidence in your words and actions, your abilities, and your intentions, then they will be more likely to follow you.

Another word for credibility is trust.  If you prove yourself to be trustworthy, then everything else gets easier; this video explores the six C’s of trust if you’d like more of my thoughts on that subject.

Assuming you are trustworthy, here are five additional things you can get started on.

1.  Leverage the Expertise on Your Team

First, don’t operate in isolation.  When an issue comes up, talk to people, solicit opinions, ask for suggestions.

When you get other members of your team involved, they develop a sense of ownership.  Even if you don’t end up going with what they recommend, the fact that you consulted with them first can make a big difference.

After all, anybody smart enough to want to consult with them can’t be all that bad, right?

On the other hand, if you don’t bother to ask, you miss out on all that good knowledge, you risk sending the opposite message, and you lose the opportunity to build connections and loyalty with your team.

2.  Learn as Fast as You Can.

It’s OK if you don’t know everything at first, but it’s not OK to stay that way.  Here are a few ways to accelerate your learning and understanding:

Be honest. If you don’t know something, don’t pretend that you do.  Few will be fooled, and you lose credibility if they know you are fudging it.  You are also setting an example that says it’s OK to bend the truth a little.  Not a good direction to head.

Better to say, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.”  Then make sure you do, quickly, and get back to the person that asked the question.

Focus your learning effort.  Get the advice of your influencers, other peer leaders, and your boss about what’s most important to focus on.  Also sort out what gives the greatest bang for the buck (think 80/20 rule).

Focus on learning about the things that will make the most difference.   A good strategy is to pick one thing, learn it well, then move on to the next.

Get a key person to show you how.  One of my favorite techniques is to ask someone on the team who knows a skill to have him show you.   I did this with my Soldiers all the time.

Using this approach, you are recognizing his ability, learning the needed skill, and getting a chance to know a team mate better all at the same time.

Get down in the trenches.  There is probably no quicker way to learn about a job or a process than to actually spend some time doing it.  If you need to learn about how your team operates, or about issues they face, make some time to put yourself in their shoes and stand with them as they work.

In the process, you will gain valuable first-hand knowledge and experience, as well as earn some respect from your teammates for making the effort.  There’s more detail about this approach here.

Do your homework.  Talk to your more experienced peers and see what they do; look it up on the internet; ask your boss; take a class; read a book.  Figure out who or where you need to go to get the information you need and go there and get it.

3.  Build Your Network.  

Expertise is just one of many sources of power, so work to build your strength in other areas, like information.  Make a point to cultivate friendships and get to know other people outside your team.   Here are two groups to add in to your network.

Peers at your level can provide useful insights and perspectives.  They may face similar issues as you and have the experience that you don’t.  Get to know them.

People outside your team who can influence the outcome of your team’s efforts.  Maybe it’s marketing, finance, a committee member, or the bosses administrative assistant.  Figure out who these people are, and go meet them before you need their help.

4.  Be a Communicator.  

Once, in a new job, I attended a routine staff meeting.  As soon as it was over, I assembled my team and shared relevant information with them in a quick stand-up.  Several teammates told me later that no one had done that before. They really appreciated my efforts to let them know what was going on.

Add information to the conversation that they don’t already know.  Get plugged in with higher, figure out what the flows and rhythms are, attend key meetings.  Sharing appropriately and dependably will be appreciated.

5.  Show Respect.

Dan Rockwell over at his excellent Leadership Freak  web site talks about how scholars believe that respect is the most important leadership behavior employees are looking for.  Researchers say that 48% of employees who experience disrespect at work intentionally reduce their effort.  

Rockwell’s post on earning respect lists many things you can do to build respect with your teammates; among them:

*  Lift others up
*  Invite people to teach you
*  Say, “Thank you” a lot
*  Apologize.  “I was wrong” earns more respect than, “I told you so.” (But don’t be wrong the same way twice!)
*  Practice transparency and candor
*  Connect with the front line, not just the top dogs
*  Ask, “What matters to you?”


Do these things every day to demonstrate your respect for everyone around you.  You will find that in giving it, you may get it.

A Few Cautions

A couple things to keep in mind as you take on your duties.

  1. It’s not always a group decision. Conferring and getting input is good.  But never abdicate your responsibilities.  There’s a big difference between asking, “What should I do?” and “What do you think I should consider?” or “What is your experience with this issue?”
  1. Don’t make big promises. If you are less experienced than the rest of the team, you are probably the last person to start making big promises.  It is far better to keep your goals manageable and achievable.  As you meet them, your credibility grows.  If you fail to meet a big promise, their confidence in you is likely to suffer.
  1. Avoid rapid sweeping changes. Change is good, but too much too fast can be unsettling and produce resistance.

A better approach is to talk about not making big changes until you have had a chance to get your feet on the ground.  This tactic reduces fear of dramatic change, while leaving the door open to make adjustments as you learn what needs to be done.

  1. Don’t deal in rumor or gossip. They are rarely accurate, often distracting, and suck positive energy.  Deal instead with facts; address personnel issues directly and with discretion; don’t pass on rumors.

The Takeaway

The longer you lead, the more likely you will find yourself in charge of groups that are more experienced or knowledgeable than you.  No need to panic.

Focus on building relationships with your key influencers, and building your credibility with your team through learning, communicating, and respecting.

As a memory jog, I’ve put together a free infographic you can use as a reminder of the many ways to start building your credibility fast

Download free infographic

Take Action

Pick one thing on the infographic and decide what you are going to do today. Maybe you want to start by talking with your most experienced people, or making a list of people outside your team that you need to get to know.  You can do this!

Question:  What will you do today to build credibility?

Add your thoughts in the comment box below.  And if you liked this post, be sure to sign up now for twice-monthly Leadership Updates with more tips and exclusive content not available elsewhere on the site!

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About the Author: Ken Downer
Ken Downer - Founder RapidStart Leadership

Ken served for 26 years in the Infantry, retiring as a Colonel.  From leading patrols in the Korean DMZ, to parachuting into the jungles of Panama, to commanding a remote outpost on the Iran-Iraq border, he has learned a lot about leadership, and has a passion for sharing that knowledge with others.  Look for his weekly posts, check out his online courses, subscribe below, or simply connect, he loves to talk about this stuff.

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