Why Leaders Must Avoid These 10 ‘Credibility Killers’

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This month I am traveling in Asia with Bill Hybels, who is coaching leaders in 7 different cities. During our first stop in Hong Kong, a question was raised during a question and answer forum that prompted Bill to respond with a huge leadership principle.

Are there “credibility killers” undermining your leadership?

That crucial question flowed from a recent leadership interaction between Willow Creek Community Church’s pastor Bill Hybels and a marketplace leader in Hong Kong.

The question? “What would you say about a problem I have that I believe is hurting my leadership. At work I tend to have a very bad temper and I think it is hurting my effectiveness.”

Bill let the comment hang in the air a moment or two, then responded with wisdom, clarity and kindness.

“First of all,” Bill began, “Thank you for the vulnerability you have shown in asking such a question. That shows courage. Now, to your question about losing your temper, I have two words you need to hear; ‘Understandable’, and ‘inexcusable’.”

Bill went on to explain.

“That lack of control will undermine your leadership at its core. It’s understandable, in that anger is a very human emotion. But it’s inexcusable in that when your teammates see you lose control your credibility takes an enormous hit.”

Immediately, I scrawled this line across my notebook, “Consistently losing your temper is a credibility killer.”

But I would later fill in my page with what I reflected were other “credibility killers”. Credibility killers happen when leaders consistently

  1. Fail to follow through on commitments
  2. Tell half-truths
  3. Avoid the hard conversations
  4. Don’t put in a full day’s work
  5. Blame others when goals are not met
  6. Display lack of competence in key functions
  7. Belittle others
  8. Claim credit for others’ work or ideas
  9. “Spin” bad news
  10.  Display arrogance

This list is merely the tip of the credibility iceberg.

The reality is, credibility is the currency of leadership. Without it effective leadership becomes almost impossible.

This is why, I believe, Bill took time to patiently explain the vital importance of this principle.

And it’s why every leader needs to take a close look at any credibility-killers that might be eroding their leadership effectiveness.

Because when credibility is gone, it’s tough to get it back.

What would you add to this list?


the author

Scott Cochrane

Lifelong learner, practitioner and coach of leadership, across more than 50 countries. Follower of Jesus, husband of Nora, grateful parent and grandparent.


  1. absalutly true. A few of years ago I screwed up big time. I am in the military and at the time was a Staff Sergeant (E6), I completely lost my temper in front of my Soldiers. And boy do I mean lost my temper. The person that I was directing my anger at was higher ranking than me. But I didn’t just stop there; oh no. I had to screw up again. I blamed everything on the First Sergeant that I exploded on. Now let me say this, initially he was wrong and I don’t question that. However my actions made me more wrong. I completely lost the trust I had worked very hard to gain. Then I blamed others for dis-trusting me. But a couple weeks later I realized what I had done wrong, and what I should have done differently. I went to my Soldiers (platoon) and asked them to forgive me. I went to my chain of command (those above me) and asked for their forgiveness. A few people chose not to give me the forgiveness I had asked for and one (my company commander) tried to destroy my career. I decided to just keep working the way I had and to take responsibility for my actions. I eventually earned back the trust I had lost with all but my commander. I changed units to rebuild and this incident has become a distant memory. I use it as my tool of what not to do. And I learned so much about taking responsibility and losing my cool. A few people still with me know what happened but do not hold it against me. And in all honesty, the old commander lost more trust and respect than I ever did. It’s been about 3 or 4 years and he’s still tried to hurt me and my career. I didn’t lose any rank nor did I get in any real trouble. But losing trust and faith from others hurt me more than anything else ever could have. The lessons I learned were invaluable. It was hard and it sucked but looking back I’m thankful I went through it. It made me a better leader and person.

  2. Matthew, that is a remarkable story of a leadership lesson learned, the hard way.

    I am mostly struck by your comment that you chose to take responsibility for your actions. That is the essence of character-based leadership.

    Perhaps your closing comments sums it all up best; “It made me a better leader and person”. Not every leader emerges from these experiences as a ‘better leader and person’, but by taking personal responsibility you have done so.

    Thanks for sharing this significant contribution.

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