Upon hearing the shaman’s explanation, and apparently questioning the credibility of the decision process, the warrior who was a highly skilled archer drew his bow and shot the bird. The shaman, and others in the party, were very upset and demanded to know why he had done such a foolish thing. The warrior explained that if the bird could not foretell the future enough to know it was about to be shot by the arrow, it would be silly to suppose that the bird could tell what lie ahead to direct them in their journey.
I don’t know what method of decision-making Alexander the Great used after the bird incident, but he wouldn’t be the first to have to reconsider his process. Consider the credibility of another leader’s decision-making process: The CEO of a retail store chain was expounding on the virtues of workplace ethics by focusing on doing what’s right rather than what people want or expect. He gave an example of how he felt about needing to present a more professional image in his stores and implemented a policy requiring all employees to wear white shirts and ties.
After a while, his workers complained enough that he discussed it with the managers who suggested they take a survey to see how everyone felt about the policy. The survey came back with a majority indicating they would rather dress casually, as before. When the managers and the CEO met to discuss the issue, they agreed to vote on it. The vote was made, and everyone voted to drop the policy…except the CEO. Since the CEO felt the policy was important, he “vetoed it” and declared that the policy would remain.
The point here is not whether the policy was a good one, but rather the way the question was decided. Once the CEO made the decision to vote on the issue, all involved understood that every vote would count, and they would all live with the decision. How much this was discussed is irrelevant. The average person would naturally assume all would be bound by the decision of the group. Otherwise, why bother to vote?
As someone who apparently values ethics in business, this CEO will need to reassess his leadership practices in light of his commitments. Can leaders be ethical—or credible—when they declare a practice for all and excuse themselves when they’re disappointed with the outcome, whatever the justification? The CEO probably has good intentions to involve others in policy decisions and sees voting as a way to accomplish that. What he misses is that by calling for a vote, and then disregarding it, he has lost credibility with those whom he should be most aligned. If he really had no intention of changing the policy, he should have had that conversation instead.
Credibility is the quality that allows others to trust and believe in someone. Using unconvincing methods, poor logic, or practices inconsistent with espoused values to make decisions shatters that trust. Also damaging is establishing the rules of the game and trying to change them when you don’t win.
Even if a leader only occasionally vetoes a “binding” decision or otherwise fails to keep a commitment, the damage is far greater than the credibility built through credible practices. Leadership credibility takes time to build, but losing it can take almost no time at all.
Trying it on for fit: Leaders who lack credibility lose their ability to lead by virtue of the lost trust and belief in them demanded by others. Consistency, transparency, solid logic, inclusion, and integrity are all important factors for credible decision-making.
Inventory your decisions beginning with those that have most affected, or most involved, others. Create two columns on a sheet of paper labeling one with a plus and the other with a minus. With each decision, write down how your process built, or reduced, credibility among these groups and categorize each decision under plus or minus, respectively. Any practices that fall in the minus column may damage credibility. Look to the plus side for ideas on how to change your practices in the future.
- Publicly set things right in order to correct something that was wrong.
- Declare commitments about how decisions will be made, stick to them, and make it obvious.
- Act openly and with no hidden agendas. Be transparent.
- Make important commitments publicly and keep them.
- Use sound reasons for actions and make them known.
- Set an example of integrity in everything you do.
Send an email and let me know what you learn from your experiences. I would love to hear from you!