If you're explaining, you're losing.

 
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In 2008, I was promoted to my first management role. I had one direct report and was supporting the General Manager of a big business. I was a total novice and had a lot to learn about...everything.

One of the first big meetings I was to attend was a monthly forecast meeting with the division president. My role was to prepare the financial forecast with the GM and help present it to the division president.

The GM insisted that we prepare for this meeting. We went so far as to rehearse what each of us would say during the meeting.

At first, I didn't understand why he was so insistent on scripting our presentation. He even made me prepare a set of answers to questions that hadn't even been asked. 

The moment arrived, and I sat down at the big table, next to my GM, along with several other GMs and their financial people. 

The division president was an imposing figure and mostly communicated in grunts.

The GM made a few opening comments about our forecast. I added some financial drivers and growth projections, and the whole thing was over in just a few minutes.

We prepared for nearly 90 minutes to make a three-minute presentation. The president did not ask us any questions. He grunted favorably and moved on to the next team.

The next team presented for over 15 minutes. They rambled, talked over each other, and contradicted themselves. The division president hammered them with questions.

I knew that they would be working into the night to prepare more information to come back and do it all over again tomorrow.

My GM taught me a valuable lesson that day. Credibility is the single most important asset in leading a business or building a career. He had a lot of sayings back then, one of which was, “If you’re explaining, you’re losing.” If I try to translate what he meant by it, I think he was saying that credibility matters; you have to work to build it and work even harder to protect it.


Credibility matters

If I ask you to think about the people you work with and identify those who are credible or not credible, could you do it? Sure you could.

Bob, over there, is a “sandbagger”; whatever forecast he gives you, assume it will be 20% more when the numbers come in.

Lisa over there is a pro. You can take whatever she gives you to the bank. 

John is a great guy. (Isn’t it funny how we say that right before we’re about to say something negative?) John is a great guy, but you had better check his work. He means well, but he struggles with details. 

Identifying credibility is easy to do, but what does credibility mean? 

Google defines credibility as the quality of being trusted and believed in.

John Maxwell says, “credibility is a leader’s currency. With it, he or she is solvent. Without it, he or she is bankrupt.”

But to borrow an idea from Todd Henry, “it’s not like a bank account...

where you deposit a little, and you can afford to spend a little. 

It’s more like a water balloon. One tiny hole and you’ll lose it everywhere.” 

Every relationship in our lives is dependent on a straightforward question:

Can I trust you?

Can I believe that you will be there to protect and support me when times get tough?

Someone in the room is always the most credible person, and someone is the least credible. Like they say, if you don’t know who the least credible person in the room is, it might be you.


How credible are you?

The questions below were designed and tested to help you assess your credibility and give you some ideas on how you might grow your credibility and, as a result, increase your influence in your company.

1. ARE YOU INVITED TO THE TABLE BEFORE DECISIONS ARE MADE?

Yes - Good for you. It means your stock is rising. Broaden your perspective beyond your current function. Use these decision meetings to build your strategic muscle and relationship with other credible decision makers. 

No - The higher your credibility on the team or in your company, the more likely you will be invited to help make the decisions rather than asked to execute the plan. The fact is that those with high credibility are consulted before plans are rolled out to the rest of the staff.

From the outside looking in, it might be easy to blame your lack of involvement on cronyism or old boys' club behavior, and that may be an unfortunate truth, but it’s also an opportunity to begin working on your credibility.

Focus your energy on adding value by building your skills, experience, and relationships within your functional domain. Step one is to continue building credibility in your functional area by delivering excellent results. Step two is to begin learning about other functions and asking strategic questions so you can better understand the big picture of your company.

2. CAN YOU PUSH BACK ON PEERS AND YOUR BOSS?

Yes — Nice work! Your level of comfort in being yourself and speaking your mind can be an indicator of your level of credibility. Continue to hone your ability to use radical candor, which means to care personally and challenge directly. That candor needs to be humble, helpful, and in person. Avoid being overly direct all the time. Credible leaders are principled and can modulate their style to match the situation at the same time.

No — If you are fearful of offending others by telling them no, then you may lack credibility. Credible people feel they have the authority and the duty to help the company make the best decisions with the information available, and if that means challenging assumptions or plans, then so be it.

Credibility provides a level of confidence that allows you to ruffle a few feathers for the greater good. 

Want to be more confident? Start by seeking to understand. Approach every situation with the assumption that you don't have all the information. You need to learn how to ask questions that lead to better thinking and don't put people on the defensive. Coaching is an excellent source for this style of questioning. Check out this book or this one.

The paradox is that those with credibility are rewarded with more credibility for their forward and holistic thinking, which is required to challenge across and upward in the organization. 

3. DO YOU RELY ON POSITIONAL POWER TO GET WORK DONE?

There are two types of power in an organization: positional and influential. Positional power is using your place in the hierarchy to command others to work with you. Influential power is attracting others to join your coalition. The former is weak but can be useful in the short term. The latter requires a long-game approach that builds credibility.

Yes - You lack credibility, and you know it because, otherwise, you wouldn't do it. You are not alone. The sad truth is that a significant number of managers use their place in the hierarchy, or worse yet, their boss to get work done. An example of this might be saying, "Bob needs us to get 'x' done."

Managers who use a name or title to get work done are giving away their power and eroding credibility. If you find yourself struggling to justify why an action needs to be done for any reason other than the boss says so, then you have some work to do.

The good news is that you can stop doing it. For most managers, it's habitual, and they likely don't realize they're doing it. Thus, the next time you need help or are handing out assignments, make it easier on yourself by having thought through the request in advance and being able to articulate the why, what, and how of the request. 

No - Bam! You get it! Even those who report to us are volunteers. There is no such thing as positional power because, in the end, management and leadership both require the ability to convince others to want to help you. The ability to enroll others is an often overlooked skill set that will continue to pay big dividends. To keep growing in the right direction, try presenting challenges and inviting the people that work for you or your peers to help you come up with the best ideas for solving them together. 

4. DO PEERS SEEK YOUR ADVICE OR ASK YOU TO REVIEW THEIR WORK?

Yes - If your peers and your boss ask you for advice or to look at something they are working on, it means two things: 1. What they are working on is important to them, and they want to ensure their thinking is sound, and 2. They trust you to be their sounding board. This small act is a strong sign that they believe you are not only competent but also trustworthy enough for them to believe they can be vulnerable in front of you. Continue to nurture these relationships, and invite others to join you. There is an African proverb that says, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." Going nowhere fast isn't very ambitious. Going far and taking people with you is what leadership is all about. 

No - Hey, don't be too hard on yourself. It likely means you lack experience or don't yet have a visible track record of positive results. An old friend of mine started a consulting business with a simple and effective strategy that you should try, which is to "make friends and help people." You can also start asking others for advice and to look at your work. This approach serves double-duty of building relationships and getting people to see your work first-hand.

5. DO YOU COMPLAIN, BLAME, OR DEFEND?

Yes - This is unfortunate and immature. I’ve witnessed countless people with a wide variety of titles blame their team or external circumstances for not delivering results, and, to be honest, I’ve done it too.

Blaming someone else can feel like an escape button when pressure is applied by a superior. Whatever you do, don’t push it. Doing so is one of the fastest ways to lose credibility.

If you or your team made a mistake, then own it. It’s the only way. Don’t try to rationalize or reshape the story so that it sounds like it was out of your hands. 

Complaining is just a lighter version of the same lack of accountability. It’s more common, but it is just as subversive. People who complain lose credibility.

Complaining when it is more laborious or more frustrating than you expected may feel good, but it’s like nails on a chalkboard to everyone around you. Worst of all, it’s contagious.

Take responsibility for the situation. It may not be ideal, but you can choose your attitude and work your way out of it. Being positive in the face of adversity builds credibility and influence.

No — Please allow me to shake your hand. You are on your way to being the leader that others aspire to be someday. Continue to demonstrate your maturity and perspective and help others do the same.

There is no worse strategy for building credibility, managing people, or leading an organization than complaining, blaming, or defending. Help us all be better versions of ourselves and lead on, my friend.


Conclusion

Writing about credibility is a funny thing. Do I have enough credibility to give you sound advice? These questions aren’t magical and my advice is based solely on the observations and experiences of someone who makes a lot of mistakes.  

What’s important is that we are thinking about our credibility and our relationships. Even great relationships need work to keep them that way, and the job of building trust is never done. I’m not sure if you can have too much credibility, but I know you will suffer if you have too little. 

Start from where you are and work with what you have. That’s what I’m doing.

Building your credibility helps you make more strategic decisions. If you want a playbook loaded with simple ideas to help you transform into a strategic leader, I’ve got just what you need. Get your free copy of my new guide here.

 
Jeff Shannon