Crisis of Leadership Credibility

Columnist Javed Iqbal Shah examines why our graph has gone so low.

Importance of leadership in any organized endeavour cannot be over emphasised. Though individual efforts are also necessary to carry out different tasks, but most of the jobs need collective struggle. And collective struggle requires leaders, who can lead people in the right direction. Most of us do tend to follow the footsteps of the people whom we consider trustworthy. On the other hand, we feel qualm when we listen to sermons from people whom we regard as liars. In this regard, several questions arise naturally in our minds. For instance, why do we look upon some people more credible than others? How do we define credibility? Does credibility of a leader play any role in leadership effectiveness? How can we ensure to equip our organizations with credible leaders? I shall make an attempt to answer these questions in the following paragraphs.

What is Credibility?

The word credibility has several meanings. Alternatively, it means capability of being believed, to command belief or to truthfulness or correctness of what one says. In other words, credibility means that whatever a person says, he believes in it. Mere believing is not sufficient for a person to be taken as a credible person, rather, he should act on what he says. This is only possible when one speaks truth and only truth. But how can one speak truth and only truth on all occasions? Sages and Sufis provide a simple remedy: “Be true to yourself”. Being true to one’s own self lays down the foundations of being truthful to others under all circumstances.

A few days ago, I happened to listen to a sermon on austerity and simplicity. The sermon was well intentioned and delivered in the most convincing manner. After the sermon, I asked the participants of the congregation of their views on the issues raised by the speaker. Nearly all of them opined that the speaker was not much serious about his talk since he never practiced these virtues in his personal life.

Leadership Credibility

Role of leaders has remained and will stay paramount in all societies and organizations in motivating their followers to adopt a certain course of action. In military organisations, this role becomes even more important since military leaders are frequently required to lead their men in uncertain and risky situations. Therefore, if a military leader is not credible in his conduct and behaviour, he will never gain the respect and instant obedience of his men. In order to become a credible leader, one needs to be true to one’s ownself. A leader must say only those things, which he really believes in. Not only a leader’s own belief in what he says is vital, but his actions and behaviour are even more important. Actions and words of a leader become integrated only when he has integrated personality. If a leader has several compartments in his personality, his words and intentions will never reach his followers. Even if a leader has exceptional skill of public speaking, his followers will not believe an iota of what he says if they find him lacking in credibility. Practicing good deeds once a while will not enable a man to attain the status of a credible leader, but he would have to adopt the habit of setting his own example in all circumstances. Here, a befitting saying of the Holy Prophet, Muhammad (SAW) is worth mentioning, which says, “The best deed is the one, which a believer always does.”

Credibility and Leadership Effectiveness

Credibility of a leader plays significant part in making him an effective leader. This happens due to the following reasons:-

(a) Firstly, because of being an integrated and truthful man, the leader himself feels high level of commitment to what he says.

(b) Secondly, before convincing others, the leader acts on what he says. In this way, he lays down the foundation of the task ahead. In other words, the work starts even before the followers are asked to do their part.

(c) Thirdly, due to high credibility of the leader, the followers also feel highly committed and motivated to the common goals.

(d) And finally, group dynamism takes place when leader and followers pursue a cause single-mindedly as a well-knit team, which ultimately leads to effectiveness of the leader.

Effective Leaders and Organisations

No one can deny the need of the credible leaders in all types of organizations. However, manning the contemporary organisations with credible leaders is not an easy undertaking, and there is no shortcut to it. Credible leaders have not been and cannot be produced by educating and training the present leaders through modern management development programmes. Neither can they be made in the organizations by appointing people in various leadership roles. Rather, we would have to focus our attention on the nurseries of future leaders, i.e., homes. In this regard, someone has rightly said, “Future leaders are not made in the organizations, they are groomed in homes.”

One of the victims of the modern lifestyle is the oldest institution of family. Importance of the role of a family in upbringing of a child is second to none. Atmosphere of a home contributes tremendously toward moulding of highly impressionable minds into future leaders. A child sees, experiences and imitates the people, whom he considers as leaders of his home. Father, mother, grand parents, elder siblings, all are seen by young children as their role models. If role models in our homes are good, we would be able to produce good, credible leaders. Therefore, in order to equip our organizations with credible leaders, we would have to work hard on home front. As elders, we have greater responsibility of ensuring that we do not possess dual character, that we ourselves act on what we say, and that we lead simple, honourable and truthful life.


In everyday life, each one of us has to assume the role of leader, whether in our homes or in the organizations where we work. We cannot hope to be accepted as credible leaders until we learn to speak truth, first of all, to our ownselves, and then to others. Before asking others to do something or behave in a certain manner, it is prudent upon us to set our own example by behaving consistently. We cannot teach others the virtues of austerity and simplicity if our personal example belie our sermons. In order to achieve credibility, we would have to start from our ownselves, rather from our thoughts. Following thought-provoking saying of Frank Otlaw provides a step-wise framework to bring about meaningful change in our lives.

Watch your thoughts, they become words
Watch your words, they become actions
Watch your actions, they become habits
Watch your habits, they become character
Watch your character, it becomes your destiny
(Frank Otlaw)