With Martin G. Moore

Episode #243

Credibility: The Hallmark of Great Leaders: What does it take?

Whatever you try to achieve as a leader relies, at least to some extent, on your credibility. If you have strong personal credibility, it makes everything you do inordinately easier.

Credibility galvanizes your team. It instills confidence in the people above you and it ultimately becomes an integral part of your leadership brand. Without it, every yard you manage to move forward feels hard.

There’s no shortage of smart executives in the world, but there are very few great leaders. Credibility is the hallmark of all great leaders. Without exception, great leaders have high personal credibility.

It’s the type of credibility that’s founded in their competence, their values, their leadership approach and, ultimately, their results. And everyone around them notices—you can feel the difference!

In this episode, I expose the key differences between those who are just smart executives, and those who are great leaders. And, with this as the foundation, I reveal some of the critical elements required to successfully build and maintain your personal leadership credibility.

Generate Your Free
Personalized Leadership Development Podcast Playlist

As a leader, it’s essential to constantly develop and improve your leadership skills to stay ahead of the game.

That’s why I’ve created a 3-question quiz that’ll give you a free personalized podcast playlist tailored to where you are right now in your leadership career!

Take the 30-second quiz now to get your on-the-go playlist 👇

Take The QuizTake The Quiz


Episode #243 Credibility: The Hallmark of Great Leaders: What does it take?


I often draw a distinction that I think is an incredibly important prelude to the discussion on credibility. There’s a big difference between a smart executive and a great leader. But it’s a tricky distinction to make because it relies at least to some extent on the notional demarcation between leadership and management.

I know! Just like you, I see the LinkedIn tiles every day demonstrating the difference between leaders and managers. I find these to be facile to say the least. They’re usually set up to paint management as somehow bad, and leadership as something inherently noble.

Commonly you’ll see managers using a stick to beat their people to get results, while leaders gently nurture their people to achieve self-actualization, leading from the front as their teams gratefully follow them into the fire.

What a load of sh!t!

I spent a lot of time in very senior corporate roles and, in my view, you absolutely can’t be a great manager unless you’re also a good leader and vice versa: you can’t be a great leader unless you’re a good manager. Let me give you an example.

Something that would traditionally be considered a function of management is executing a work program and reporting on progress to plan. Good managers do this competently. But if you’re not also a good leader, it’s very likely that you won’t be able to even see the true performance picture, let alone manage it.

If you don’t create a culture of accountability as a leader, things are going to fall through the cracks, and execution will be poor. If you can’t bring out the best performance from each of your people by stretching them to the edge of their capability, which is clearly a task of leadership, whatever results you report will be inferior by definition and if people are afraid to bring you bad news because you set up a culture of blame and perfectionism, it’s likely that you won’t hear about it when things are going wrong.

In my world, management and leadership are intertwined for the most part, and although some activities might be weighted more heavily to one or the other, I see management and leadership as being a continuum rather than a choice between competing alternatives.


During my corporate career, I worked with a lot of smart executives. There was basically one on every street corner, and when I describe what I mean by a smart executive, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Smart executives are generally very bright, intellectually. They’re driven and they’re ambitious. They’ve mastered the art of thinking strategically. They communicate well for the most part. They can absorb and process complex information readily. They see patterns and they adapt easily. They can tap into their past experience to help them understand new problems that they haven’t encountered before. They weather the storms of business and politics. They have tenacity. They have stamina. They know their numbers, and they manage their risks pretty well.

But this doesn’t make them good leaders and it’s really easy to confuse the two.

Very often they don’t pay attention to capability building and talent management, which should be a key aspect of any role. They revel in being the smartest person in the room and, because of this, they have a tendency to underrate other people’s abilities and only trust their own judgment .

This can make them quite directive. They often don’t pay attention to the most critical of leadership functions like, for example, coaching and mentoring their direct reports, spending time to understand what’s really going on in the layers below them, ensuring that people are empowered properly and holding them individually to account.

It’s also incredibly interesting to see how they evolve as they get into more senior positions. Instead of becoming better leaders, often they become worse leaders.

How is this even possible?

Well, the success can go to their heads, making them more arrogant. They listen less, and they’re more prone to believing their own bullsh!t. And as they reach the highest levels, they become obsessed with protecting their own position, and their professional image. They’re often quite thin-skinned and impatient. They don’t like to be challenged, and they have a lot invested in protecting their turf.

This creates a serious mismatch between how they view themselves and how they’re viewed by their people. There are countless pieces of research that demonstrate this. The self-reporting of senior executives vastly overrates their leadership performance and capability, when compared to how their people rate them on the same dimensions.

Smart executives get sh!t done for sure, but not all smart executives are competent leaders and, because of this, they often leave a bunch of upside on the table, and a trail of carnage in their wake.

what makes a great leader?

As I said, I can count the great leaders I’ve worked with on one hand.

We’ve just covered why smart executives aren’t necessarily great leaders, but my experience is that the few great leaders I’ve worked with were also smart executives.

The leadership competencies that contribute to this are:

  • the ability to listen carefully and respond accordingly;

  • the empathy needed to see the world through someone else’s eyes;

  • a focus on improving other people’s performance, not just demonstrating their own individual brilliance;

  • setting high standards for everyone on the team, and not allowing them to slip due to weak or inattentive leadership;

  • the ability to create a performance-oriented culture: no blame, no excuses;

  • the willingness to work at their own level, and not dive down into detail that other people are being paid to handle;

  • a single-minded focus on value creation; and

  • the drive to get the best outcome for the organization and team, not just the outcome that’s easiest or more commonly, the one that best satisfies their own self-interest.

These qualities as well as enabling superior leadership performance are also the qualities that drive trust and credibility with others.

In virtually all my keynotes, I take the opportunity to demonstrate the way desirable leadership attributes have been oversimplified almost to the point of being meaningless.

For example, we’re told that great leaders should be fallible and not be afraid to show their flaws and weaknesses. But is this actually true? Is fallibility good? Well, maybe… It depends what else is going on.

If you’re fallible and you’re also competent, that’s incredibly positive, and it can be unbelievably powerful. But if you are fallible and you’re incompetent, that’s disastrous. No one’s going to follow you if you’re incompetent. And demonstrating fallibility just compounds the felony!

So, be a little thoughtful when you think about credibility builders, if you’re trying to adopt conventional leadership wisdom. I was pretty lucky during my corporate career. Because I jumped across a number of industries and companies, I couldn’t bullsh!t anyone that I knew the detail, so I had no problem whatsoever demonstrating my fallibility. And because I had a general level of executive competence, that was almost a free kick for my leadership credibility.

Credibility starts with competence

Competence is your ticket to play. If you aren’t competent in your role, nothing else you do will make a material difference to how people around you see you.

I don’t often talk about the part that your own role competence plays in leadership, but if you’re a CFO, you’d better be a whiz with the numbers. If you’re head of marketing, you’d better keep yourself on the cutting edge of marketing practices. And for any senior leader, you need to understand the core competencies of business: negotiation, financial performance, capital efficiency, business and workplace relations law, economics, supply chain management… the list goes on.

There’s really nothing in business that can’t be learned, so get it done. You don’t have to take two years out to do a full-time MBA at the Sloan School of Management, either: all of these skills can be learned relatively easily from the Internet. There’s no real excuse for having gaps in your learning, so read what you need to read; listen to what you need to listen to; and learn what you need to learn.

Whenever I went into a new company or industry for the first time, I would work my arse off for six months to become a competent executive in that industry. I would read voraciously, tap into the people below me, and research the market until I felt completely comfortable. As I learned over time, I can become a competent operator at executive level in any industry within six months but it takes me about two years to get the depth of expertise and knowledge that really enables me to perform at my peak.

To drive credibility, you must start with competence. There is no substitute for it.

the 8 drivers of credibility

So, you’ve got your competence under control. Now what!?

I always look at a few key credibility builders. I’m going to start at number one, because competence is a given. That’s your foundation. Nothing works without it. These next eight things are the things that are going to add the most credibility to you, fastest.

1. Truthfulness

If you distinguish yourself as someone who tells the truth, even when the truth is hard, that does wonders for your credibility. And truthfulness extends to not withholding bad news. You know, the type of news that makes many leaders freeze, afraid of the consequences of the news becoming public. Cover-ups, avoidance, and obfuscation mark you as a weak leader who lacks credibility. I saw countless smart executives fall prey to this one.

2. Accountability

Leaders who step into their accountability and take ownership are credible. Leaders who duck and weave, and blame all the things that are outside of their control fundamentally lack credibility. Making excuses for your failures and missteps is a slippery slope, too: if this is how you choose to behave, then even when you do get results, interestingly, it doesn’t translate into greater credibility.

3. Communication capability

There’s definitely a skill component to this, and the door swings both ways. It requires high order skills in both talking and listening, and it’s not just a matter of how you communicate with your people, but also how often. Most senior leaders talk too much and communicate too little. Your people are constantly watching you and listening to you.

As one of my trusted advisors used to remind me, “Your mouth is a loaded weapon, so use it carefully.” People judge you both by what you say and what you don’t say. So, choose your words carefully, because they’ll either strengthen or weaken your credibility.

4. Consistency

It’s important that people know what to expect from you. There are certain adjectives that are often applied to leaders who aren’t consistent. They range from mercurial, to volatile, to unpredictable, even to dangerous. You don’t want to be entirely predictable, but by the same token, you don’t want to be so unpredictable that people worry about your reaction to an issue more than they worry about the issue itself. Consistency makes people feel safe and at ease, and it builds your leadership credibility.

5. Flexibility

Having just said that you need to be consistent, credible leaders don’t get fixated on one way of doing things or one solution to a problem. As soon as they get better information, they shift their views readily. Now, this isn’t the same as indecisiveness or impulsiveness. It’s a demonstration of mental, emotional and psychological agility.

One of the most powerful credibility-builders I had was the ability to change my mind rapidly in the light of new input. I wasn’t trying to prove anything, I was just trying to get the best outcome. So, when one of my people came up with a good idea, or recognized a risk that I’d missed, I would happily change my perspective. And I’d thank them for improving my understanding, and making a successful outcome more likely. So do your best to not get ‘lock-jaw’ on any solution, issue, or even a major investment.

6. Results

No matter what you say, how well you communicate, or how consistent you are, you still need to get results. The type of results that others aspire to, but can’t consistently achieve. Measurable, superior results. Every great leader does this, and it enlivens their people to want to do more of it. It’s a virtuous circle of performance and motivation.

7. Congruence

This is often called authenticity but, unfortunately, I find the word has become overused and clichéd. I prefer to call it congruence, because it’s less loaded with aspirational righteousness. It more accurately describes the alignment of your beliefs, thoughts, words, and actions. The closer the alignment, the more congruent you are. And the more congruent you are, the more people will experience you as a credible leader.

People may not necessarily be able to put their finger on what they’re seeing when they’re in the presence of a highly congruent leader, but they know the difference, and it creates a level of trust and credibility that most smart executives simply can’t command.

8. Grace Under Pressure

You can’t afford to be rattled by pressure. Inability to perform under pressure is going to kill your credibility, really fast. Anyone can lead when the going’s good. You only find out the true character of a leader when they’re thrown into the cauldron. And of course, some handle it better than others.

I was really fortunate to pick up a range of techniques quite early in my leadership career that enabled me to be incredibly calm and highly functional under the most extreme pressure–in a congruent way of course. I call this grace under pressure: the ability to remain dead-calm, level-headed, rational, and logical no matter what.

This doesn’t mean you hide your emotions. What it means is that you never panic, and you bring a sense of calm confidence to everyone around you. Just as competence is the foundation of your credibility, grace under pressure, well, it’s the icing on the cake.


If you want to be a great leader, credibility is a prerequisite. This means you’ll be highly competent, you’ll tell the truth, you’ll take accountability, you’ll work hard to be a great communicator. You’ll be consistent, but you’ll also be flexible. You’ll deliver results no matter what. You’ll demonstrate congruence between your beliefs, your words, and your actions. And yes, you’ll have grace under pressure.

In the absence of credibility, you’ll struggle to win people’s trust. They’ll spend all their time trying to read you, to preempt your reactions, and to try to work out how to keep you happy. They won’t be focused on delivering value, and that certainly isn’t the recipe for building high performance in a winning culture.


  • Ep #219: Intelligence Is Overrated – Listen Here

  • Ep #182: What Is Strong Leadership? – Listen Here

  • Ep #163: Communicating Value and Acing Accountability – Listen Here

  • Ep #48: Building Trust and Managing Change – Listen Here


  • Explore other podcast episodes – Here

  • Take our FREE Level Up Leadership Masterclass – Start Now

  • Check out our 8-week online leadership program, Leadership Beyond the TheoryLearn More


Here’s how you can make a difference:

  • Subscribe to the No Bullsh!t Leadership podcast

  • Leave us a review on Apple Podcasts

  • Repost this episode to your social media

  • Share your favourite episodes with your leadership network

  • Tag us in your next post and use the hashtag #nobsleadership